HOUSTON (AP) - Police planned to charge a driver suspected of being intoxicated when he lost control of his car while using his cell phone, plunging the vehicle into a rain-filled ditch where five young passengers died, a spokesman said Sunday.
Charges of intoxication manslaughter were being prepared against Chanton Jenkins, 32, Houston police Kese Smith said.
Smith said Jenkins failed a field sobriety test after the Saturday afternoon crash, which followed torrential rain storms. The results of a blood alcohol test were pending. Smith did not know if Jenkins had an attorney.
The bodies of three boys _ ages 4, 7 and 11 _ were found inside the vehicle. A body believed to be that of a 1-year-old girl was found Sunday, and a search was continuing for the body of a 3-year-old girl.
The car crashed into a tributary about two miles from the point where it feeds into Greens Bayou, a waterway that begins in northern Harris County and flows eastward and then south for about 40 miles before emptying into the Houston Ship Channel.
The driver and another adult escaped from the vehicle, along with a 10-year-old girl.
It took 2 1/2 hours to find the car in the ditch, which had filled with 9 1/2 feet of fast-moving water, and it was close to midnight before the current had eased enough for a dive team to recover the boys’ bodies and discover that the girls had been swept away, Smith said. Police said the vehicle was swept 100 feet from the spot where it left the road.
Police said the adult passenger, who is Jenkins’ brother, told police Jenkins was the father of four of the children, including the girl who escaped.
Jenkins’ brother told police rain was falling heavily when Jenkins answered a cell phone. He said Jenkins lost control when he hung up the phone and the car flew down an embankment into the ditch, Smith said.
Family members and friends searched for the girls’ bodies Sunday, walking with police officers along the grassy tributary, by then no longer filled with raging waters. At least 30 family members and friends gathered at the accident site and at one point some gathered in a circle and prayed.
“We know they are not going to be found alive. But we’re hoping that they can just find them,” said Cheri Smith, 40, whose cousin is the mother of the two little girls. The girls, who were sisters, were cousins of the other children in the car, she said.
Smith said the family was focused on the search and not the circumstances that led to the accident.
At least one other traffic death was blamed on the powerful storms that swept across southeast Texas.