ASTORIA, Oregon (AP) — Kraai McClure and Scott Beautler were driving on State Highway 401 south of Naselle when they stopped to check out a damaged tree near the road. They found a young woman dead and two little girls huddled in the cold and rain.
Washington State Patrol said the was car driven by 26-year-old Jessica Marie Rath of Astoria. She hit the tree sometime early Wednesday morning after she fell asleep while driving a 2007 Dodge Caliber four-door southbound. Her car left the highway to the right into bushes, striking a tree head on.
The accident occurred on State Route 401 at milepost 5 about eight miles south Naselle. Rath was wearing her seat belt. It’s not clear if the children were wearing their safety belts.
Trooper Russ Winger, public information officer for WSP District 8 in Bremerton, Wash., said Wednesday evening by phone that Kraai McClure and Scott Beautler noticed something that “struck him as weird” as they drove by the scene of the accident. There was a fresh gash in a tree by the highway, which runs along the Columbia River in the area of the wreck, near the Knappton Heritage Center.
Kraai McClure and Scott Beautler stopped and found the 4-year-old girl and her 2-year-old sister waiting beside their mom’s wrecked car. Rath had died behind the wheel and the 4-year-old girl had pulled her sister out of the vehicle. The younger girl suffered serious injuries, said Trooper Winger.
The older girl covered both of them with a blanket, Trooper Russ Winger said. The overnight temperature was in the low 40s.
“We were just doing a deed,” said Kraai McClure and Scott Beautler. “She saved her sister’s life.”
The girls were first taken to an Astoria hospital, where their father met them. The 2-year-old was airlifted to a Portland hospital.
The mother and children had driven to Westport, Washington, the night before to meet the father of the children, who told police he believed the mother was coming into Westport in his fishing boat but did not show up. When the two adults last spoke via cell phone after midnight on Wednesday, the mother and children were still en route back to Astoria, indicating the children were alone at the scene of the accident for up to eight hours.
The trooper said that if the passerby had not responded as he did, it’s possible the children might have remained outside much longer. Temperatures were in the low 40s in the area over night, with rain.
Both children were transported to Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria, where their father is taking care of them. The older girl also suffered injuries, according to the WSP report. The children’s names have not been released.