Girl, 2, Flies Out of SUV Into River
GARY, Ind. – Divers stopped their search of a river Thursday without finding any signs of a 2-year-old girl who flew through an SUV's window and plunged at least 40 feet from a highway bridge into the water. Authorities said she was presumed dead.
Divers spent several hours in the Grand Calumet River (search) looking for Jatima Greene. Water in the heavily industrialized area was coated with moss, algae and debris.
Ron Kurth, a spokesman for Lake County (search) water rescue team, said rescuers would continue searching for the toddler's body by boat and helicopter.
"You live here until you get some type of closure for this family," he said.
People in the SUV said the girl was wearing a seat belt, but investigators found no child seats in the vehicle.
The crash occurred as family members were returning to Gary from a birthday party in Chicago, the girl's aunt said.
Police were investigating reports that the SUV went out of control after it was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer.
Another driver, Keisha Bethley, said she saw the SUV strike a retaining wall on a ramp over the river and then roll over.
Jatima flew out the window, she said. Bethley said she immediately dialed 911 on her cellular phone, but the dispatcher accused her of placing a phony emergency call.
"She kept saying 'Quit playing around,"' Bethley said. "I said, 'I'm not playing, the baby is in the water."'
A truck driver jumped in to try and reach the toddler, Fire Chief Mark Everett said. "He said he saw her about 10 feet away, but he just couldn't get to her," Everett said.
Jatima's sobbing mother, Jacqueline Greene, was restrained by a friend from descending the river bank to search the water herself.
Rescuers searched the waterway for more than two hours Wednesday night under helicopter searchlights and returned after daybreak Thursday. The girl's father, Timothy Mack, criticized authorities for calling off the search overnight.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "What if it was their child?"
On Thursday, family members stood hand-in-hand in a prayer circle on train tracks nearby while the search continued. Authorities said there was little chance Jatima would be found alive.
"It seems unreal," Timothy Mack said. "I don't believe my little girl is dead."