LOS ANGELES – Nine-year-old Celia Renteria was certain her father was still alive when she crawled out of a steep California canyon and walked in the desert darkness to find help after their car crashed.
Braving the cold and howling of coyotes, she hiked through rugged terrain to a nearby home. No one answered. Then she hiked up the rocky embankment and along the remote highway to a commuter rail station, where she flagged down a passing motorist early Sunday.
When officers responded, they found Celia's father, Alejandro Renteria, 35, dead. He was pinned in the driver's seat.
In all, the girl hiked up to 2 miles.
"She was very courageous, being able to walk through the dark, through bushes and very rough terrain to get help for her dad," said California Highway Patrol Officer Gil Hernandez. "Had she just waited there, we probably would not have found her until the next day."
The Renterias' car was launched about 200 feet down into the canyon along an isolated stretch of the Sierra Highway in the high desert, the CHP said. The vehicle flipped several times.
Authorities said Celia freed herself from the mangled wreck to find help.
Law enforcement officials praised her bravery and tenacity.
"She walked quite a distance in a very, very threatening environment," CHP Sgt. Tom Lackey told KABC-TV. "It's very steep and it's brushy, and there's also coyotes in the background."
She was treated for minor injuries, including bumps and bruises and a cut on her face.
"She's in good condition," Lyndsay Hutchison, a hospital spokeswoman, said Monday. She could not provide any further details, saying parents or a legal guardian must permit the release of information under medical privacy laws.
On video shot by the family in the hospital, the girl told her family she was saddened to learn her father did not survive.
The girl's caregiver, Consuelo Amador, told the station the child didn't panic and turned off the car's engine after she smelled gasoline.
The CHP was investigating whether alcohol played a role in the crash. Toxicology tests are pending from the coroner.