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Choctaw family devastated in Miss. SUV wreck

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians was dealing Sunday with the devastating loss of five young siblings and an adult killed when their SUV plunged into a rain-swollen creek.

Neshoba County Sheriff Tommy Waddell said the victims appear to have drowned after their Dodge Durango left a county road 20 miles southeast of Philadelphia just after midnight Saturday.

"It's always sad to hear of the death of a tribal member, but today our tribe experienced a great tragedy with the loss of six beautiful Choctaw souls. I cannot begin to imagine what the friends, relatives and loved ones are feeling," Tribal Chief Phyliss J. Anderson said in a statement.

Deputy County Coroner Marshall Prince identified the five children who died as 9-year-old Dasyanna John, 8-year-old Duane John, 7-year-old Bobby John, 4-year-old Quinton John and 18-month-old Kekaimeas John. Family friend Diane Chickaway, 37, also died. The sheriff said all were members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and lived in the Pearl River community east of Philadelphia, where the tribe operates a large casino complex.

The father of the children, Dewayne John, escaped the vehicle and remains hospitalized for hypothermia and water inhalation. The children's mother, Deanna Jim, and Mrs. Chickaway's husband, Dale Chickaway, also survived. The group was traveling to Conehatta, another Choctaw community, with Mr. John driving. Sheriff Waddell said he has been tested to see if he was under the influence of alcohol, though he said official results aren't in. If officials decide to file charges, Sheriff Waddell said, they probably wouldn't act until Wednesday.

It appears none of the nine occupants of the vehicle was wearing a seat belt or was in a child restraint, the sheriff said.

The crash happened on County Road 107 in a rural area near the Neshoba-Newton county line. Heavy rains have hit the area in recent days, raising the water level of what Sheriff Waddell described as a normally small creek. The SUV ran off the left side of the road into the creek near the Kitchner community.

The sheriff said it wasn't raining and there was no ice on the road.

"This accident is not weather-related at all," Sheriff Waddell said.

Divers from the Philadelphia Fire Department had to be called to find the submerged vehicle. Mr. Prince said the vehicle was pulled from the water after 3 a.m. Besides the 30 emergency workers, about 20 Choctaw tribal members gathered at the site, he said.

"It looked like he has just run off the road and went into the water," Mr. Prince said. "It was deep and swift. The vehicle was completely submerged."

Sheriff Waddell said the bodies had been sent to Jackson for autopsies. The Mississippi Highway Patrol will reconstruct the accident starting Sunday to learn more.

Tribal spokeswoman Misty Dreifuss said funeral arrangements likely would be made Sunday and the children were expected to be buried together. Ms. Dreifuss said that word of the deaths spread quickly through the 10,000-member tribe and that members "definitely have been hit pretty hard."

Sheriff Waddell said that he could not recall a deadlier accident in the county in his 26 years of law enforcement.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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