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Victims of canal car crash identified as search continues

Emergency personnel, including divers, work on the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal where a vehicle plunged into the water from South Canal Road, west of St. Georges, Del., Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Emergency personnel, including divers, work on the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal where a vehicle plunged into the water from South Canal Road, west of St. Georges, Del., Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. William Bretzger

A wrong turn on the way to a youth football game turned tragic when a car carrying five young people plunged into a canal in northern Delaware, according to the father of three boys who are presumed dead.

Officials were still searching for the body of a 6-year-old passenger Monday. A teenage girl is believed to be the only survivor of the Sunday morning crash.

Willis Lindsey said he and his family were traveling from Wilmington to Easton, Maryland, in two separate cars when both vehicles took a wrong exit and wound up on a gravel road along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

Lindsey was driving with his wife, 10-year-old son Donald, and 2-year-old daughter to Donald's football game. In the other car, his eldest son, Willis Jr., 18, was driving a 16-year-old female friend, his brothers Kyree, 16, and Ethan, 6, and their 12-year-old cousin, Eric Lindsey.

"We were trying to get off onto (U.S.) 301 but took the exit before that and ran into a dead end," Lindsey said Monday. Lindsey, 40, said he and his son turned their vehicles around and were headed back to the main road when he lost sight of his son's car after rounding a slight bend.

"I'm thinking when I made the bend, I turned around the bend, I'm guessing that he just went straight," said Lindsey, who believes the dust kicked up by his car may have obscured his son's sight.

"That's the best I can come up with," he said. "I've tried to think of a million things as to why it happened."

Lindsey said after turning around, he and his wife found the girl sitting on rocks along the southern bank of the canal, a heavily traveled waterway that connects the Delaware River with the Chesapeake Bay.

There was no sign of the others, or their vehicle.

"Once I got back around there, the car was completely submerged," said Lindsey, whose wife called 911.

Authorities retrieved the bodies of Willis Jr., Kyree and Eric on Sunday. Using sonar, they continued searching Monday for Ethan's body.

"We've been calling but they still haven't got him," Lindsey said late Monday afternoon.

Delaware State Police said Willis Jr. pulled the girl to safety before dying in a bid to rescue the three other boys.

"Those were his brothers. He wasn't going to leave them down there," Lindsey said. "He was going to do whatever he could do to get them out."

Lindsey said his eldest son knew how to swim but may have struggled in the current.

Lindsey said it took about 10 or 15 minutes before a fire truck and a state trooper arrived at the scene. The state trooper immediately stripped down to his underwear and jumped in the water in an effort to locate the submerged vehicle, he said.

"When he came back out, he said it was deeper than he anticipated it being," Lindsey recalled.

Authorities later located the car in about 20 feet (6 meters) of water.

Lindsey described his sons and nephew as close-knit and well-behaved.

"They were great kids," he said. "Between my sons and my nephew, they were awesome children."

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