The 5-year-old boy who was carried away by floodwaters in California tried to reassure his panicking mother, telling her it would be “OK” as a powerful current swept up their SUV on Monday.
Kyle Doan was pulled into the raging waters near Paso Robles on Monday shortly after pleading with his mother, Lindsy Doan, “Mom, it’s OK. Be calm.”
His mother said she initially didn’t think the water flowing over the creek crossing on San Marcos Road was deeper than normal, but she soon discovered the creek was much higher and deeper because of the powerful winter storms that slammed the central and southern parts of the state.
Doan lost control of the steering of her Chevy Traverse as she was driving Kyle to school before 8 a.m., and her SUV ended up being swept off the road and pinned against a sycamore tree.
Raging floodwaters swept Kyle away and carried him downstream, possibly into a river, according to police.
“Yesterday I got to the point where I think I ran out of tears,” Doan said. “I just don’t know what to expect anymore. I mean, I’ve tried to do a Google search: How long can a child not eat? How long can they be in wet clothes? … We’re worried because I don’t know if they’re going to be able to find him.”
More than 100 people, including National Guard troops, dive teams and volunteers picking through shoulder-high piles of driftwood on the banks of San Marcos Creek searched for a third day Wednesday for Kyle. So far, they’ve found only one of his blue and gray Nike shoes.
The storms that have relentlessly pounded California since the end of December have claimed at least 18 lives. Most of the deaths have been caused by falling trees and people driving on flooded roads.
Kyle was listed as missing, and police previously said that finding him was their top priority.
Kyle was excited to return to kindergarten Monday at Lillian Larsen Elementary School, his mother said. It was the first day he was going to be allowed to play without restrictions after recovering from a broken leg that required three surgeries and he was looking forward to seeing his friends.
Doan, a mother of three and a special education teacher at her son’s school, was less enthusiastic, wishing she had a few more days off as she took the back road from their home near Paso Robles.
For most of the year, the creek running along San Marcos Road is like so many California rivers and streams — a band of sand that only flows with winter and spring rains. When it is flowing, it’s often easy enough to drive through the shallow waters that course over the road in places.
The Doan family drove the same route Sunday to a truck stop on Highway 101, splashing through the waters without incident.
When Doan approached Monday in light rain, there were no road closures and she didn’t think it looked any different from the day before.
“But as soon as I hit the bottom, my car started to drift and I realized that it wasn’t the same,” she said. “It was completely different.”
After Doan’s car came to a rest against the trees it began filling with water, so she decided to abandon it.
The windows wouldn’t go down, but she was able to open her door and hug a tree. With the current pinning the rear door closed, she told Kyle to leave his belongings and climb into the front seat.
“I don’t care about your backpack,” she said. “I just want you to come to me.”
She was able to grab his hand but her grip faltered and the current swept Kyle around the other side of the tree.
“I could feel his fingers slipping from mine,” she recalled.
As the water pulled them apart, she let go of the tree to try to get her son, who couldn’t swim.
“I saw his head kind of floating and he was looking at me because he was going backwards,” she said. “I was trying to keep my head above the water, but the currents kept pulling me down. And after awhile, I didn’t see Kyle or what was going on.”
Neil Collins, who owns an orchard off San Marcos Road, heard Doan’s screams and ran down to the creek.
“I looked at my wife and said, ‘That sounds like a human,’” he said. “I heard a second scream and just ran up the river.”
Collins said in a typical winter, the river rises to waist deep, but he guessed it was up to 12 feet deep.
After he spotted Doan struggling to stay afloat, Collins noticed another body floating in the middle of the creek and thought it looked lifeless. So he focused on the woman, who was closer to shore.
He ran alongside her downstream while his wife called 911 and some orchard workers brought a rope. Eventually, Doan managed to grab some branches of bushes underwater and Collins and his crew tossed her a lifeline.
Doan was hysterical when she made it to shore, Collins said. It was only then that he realized the other figure that washed by was her young son.
If Doan had floated another 100 yards, he’s not sure he could have helped her. An embankment and barbed wire fence would have prevented him from running alongside her.
Brian Doan, Kyle’s dad, said he is grateful his wife was saved. He doesn’t blame her for driving that route and thinks she did the right things to try to save their son.
“She made the best decisions she could,” Brian told CNN. “I got to keep stressing that. She couldn’t stay in the car with him. The flows were going to overpower the car later on … They got out. That was the right thing to do.”
In a separate interview with The New York Times, the father said his wife is racked with survivor’s guilt.
“My wife feels awful because she would have rather they saved him, but she was the closest one they could get to,” he said. “They did what they could.”
Lindsy can’t stop second-guessing herself.
“In the back of your mind, it’s like, ‘Well, what if, what if, what if I just turned around and went back the other way?’” she said. “What if, what if I had just decided, ‘Hey, you know, let’s not go down this road this day?’ I don’t know that that’s ever going to disappear.”
“Maybe he would say something like … ‘There’s nothing that you can do, Mom, it’s OK. Everything will be OK,’” she said.
When asked what her son might say to her in this time, the heartbroken mother said that Kyle, the baby of the family, always wanted his parents and two older siblings to be happy and feel good.
Kyle, who has short dirty blond hair and hazel eyes, was last seen wearing a black puffer jacket with a red liner, blue jeans, and blue and gray Nike tennis shoes. He is 4 feet tall and weighs 52 pounds.
With Post wires