EL RENO — “My love, we're going to die.”
Maria Pol Martin, 26, spoke those words to her husband Friday, seconds before the EF5 tornado pulled her and their newborn son from the family minivan along Interstate 40.
The mother and her 17-day-old baby, Rey Chicoj Pol, were among the eight victims of the tornado outbreak in central Oklahoma on Friday evening. At least 11 more people died because of flooding.
Her husband, Miguel Chicoj, and two other children, Juan Chicoj Pol, 5, and Tomasa Chicoj Pol, 1, were injured when the tornado tossed the white minivan into a field.
They landed upside down still buckled inside the crumpled minivan.
While they waited for the 2.6-mile-wide tornado to pass, Chicoj, 27, and Juan prayed.
Through an interpreter Tuesday, Chicoj recalled how he drove his family into the tornado's path by mistake.
The family rents a mobile home west of Hinton, where Chicoj works for a hog farm. The family came to Oklahoma City on Friday afternoon to check on insurance coverage Chicoj needed for minor hand surgery.
They started back to Hinton about 6 p.m. after buying groceries at a Buy For Less in Oklahoma City.
Chicoj said he had misunderstood a weather forecast on the radio, thinking the tornado danger would begin about 2 a.m. Saturday rather than 2 p.m. Friday.
“He thought he had plenty of time to make it home before anything happened,” said the interpreter, Diana Acosta, a friend.
Driving west on I-40, Chicoj pulled over for about 10 minutes in Yukon because of the approaching storm. He said he decided to keep driving after seeing other vehicles still going west.
He pulled over again near El Reno as the storm worsened.
His wife unbuckled her seat belt to try to comfort their baby who had begun crying, he said.
Chicoj said he saw the tornado approach. He described it Tuesday as “coming from all different directions.” He said he thought about backing up or turning around, but it was too late.
The wind started blowing the car, spinning it slowly twice in circles on the interstate, Chicoj said. “And, then all of a sudden, the wind picked it up.”
Chicoj said the last thing his wife said to him was, “My love, we're going to die.”
After the tornado tossed the vehicle, Chicoj woke up to the sound of his older children crying. He said he was lying on his face with little room to move.
He said he and Juan were able to get out of the crushed vehicle. Another driver stopped and helped him get his daughter out.
Chicoj and his two surviving children were hospitalized Friday but have since been released, Acosta said. Tomasa suffered a broken leg and head trauma, she said.
Juan knows his mother and brother are gone, Acosta said.
“When he was in the hospital, when we went to visit him, he told us, you know, ‘The tornado came and took my mom and my little brother.' That's like the very first thing that he would tell anybody that would walk in the door,” she said.
Plans to stay
Chicoj and his wife met in Guatemala. She also had worked at the hog farm in Hinton, quitting a few months ago to have her baby, the company, The Maschhoffs, confirmed.
Chicoj said he plans to stay in Oklahoma to provide a better life for his surviving children.
The mother and baby died from multiple blunt force head trauma, the medical examiner's office reported Tuesday.
An Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper found the baby still alive, but the boy died in his arms before help arrived.
A patrol spokeswoman, trooper Betsy Randolph, said, “It's just amazing what these tornadoes can do. We had troopers who actually witnessed the family's vehicle get sucked up into the tornado ... who were right there when it happened.”
CONTRIBUTING: Staff Writers Andrew Knittle
and Bryan Painter