Pregnant mother and her son, 9, drown in Manatawny Creek floodwaters

Pregnant mother and her son, 9, drown in Manatawny Creek floodwaters

Crews worked for hours to try and locate the victim’s missing car in Douglass Township after being swept downstream.

A 31-year-old pregnant Boyertown womanand her 9-year-old son drowned after the car they were in was swept away by floodwaters into the Manatawny Creek on Thursday afternoon near Pine Forge, authorities said.

The incident occurred near Ironstone Recreation Area in Douglass Township during flash flooding that hit eastern Berks and the Tri-County area.

Douglass Township Police Chief John Dzurek confirmed late Thursday night that the mother and son were found inside their Mazda 3 along the embankment on the north side of the Manatawny Creek about a half-mile away from their last known position in the 100 block of Pine Forge Road.

Numerous water rescue crews from the region assisted in bringing the victims to shore. Workers placed the bodies on rescue stretchers that were hoisted up a steep embankment. The car remains in the creek this morning and it will take some effort to remove it, officials said.

The victims, whose names are still being withheld, were pronounced dead at the scene by deputies from the Berks County coroners’ office. Chief Deputy Coroner Jonn M. Hollenbach said this morning that autopsies will not be performed because all evidence indicates they drowned.

“The car was witnessed being swept away,” Hollenbach said.

The 9-1-1 call

Hollenbach said the woman called 9-1-1 when she became stranded under a railroad bridge. The pregnant mother relayed to a dispatcher that she and her son were stuck in the car with water rushing in. The victim’s phone was pinged to determine her exact location near a spot where Ironstone Creek flows into the Manatawny Creek. Dispatchers were on the phone with her for about 45 minutes, trying to calm her.

Dzurek, who was one of two officers on duty at the time in Douglass Township, made his way to Pine Forge Road to try and locate the stranded car. He said the flooding in the area was so bad that he never got close enough to see her vehicle, stopping at the intersection of Summit Lane.

“When I was driving through the waters myself, I could feel my SUV, which sits pretty high, wanting to drift away,” Dzurek said. “I was able to get off a little dirt lane, look down and I couldn’t see anything, got spun around and tore back through before I became part of it.”

Dzurek said he relayed a message that fire services and a water rescue was needed to access the stranded vehicle, but the numerous flooded roadways made it difficult for emergency crews to access the scene.

A firefighter who was put in contact with the victim was able to stay on the phone with her for several minutes before they lost contact, Dzurek said, with numerous attempts made to reconnect with her.

Dzurek said the last thing she told the firemen was that the nose of the car was starting to go down into the water.

Search and recovery

Dive teams and rescue boats from as far away as Schuylkill County and Phoenixville in Montgomery County were sent to the scene throughout the afternoon on Thursday. A staging area was set up at the bridge crossing the Manatawny Creek on Manatawny Drive.

Reading Search and Rescue brought its drone team out to conduct an aerial search of the creek, and the Pennsylvania State Police were flying a helicopter in the area in an attempt to locate the missing car.

Family members of the two victims started arriving at the scene of the search around 8 p.m., gathering on the bridge and looking into the floodwaters that were still raging underneath.

Dzurek said family members were trying to figure out why the victim was driving on Pine Forge Road at the time of the flood since it was a roadway she didn’t typically travel on.

“Just about every roadway in this township was under water, so people were getting so far and turning around,” Dzurek said. “Pretty much every road in this township either has trees down, has destruction or was under water.”

Around 9:45 p.m., a search party in a boat located the missing car about a quarter-mile north of the staging area on the bridge. Crews were able to see through a sun roof in the car and found the two victims inside.

More family members of the victims began arriving at the scene, embracing each other and crying on the bridge.

Dzurek said he hopes to not see another incident like Thursday again, calling the ordeal “stressful” but praised the first responders.

“Everybody kept everyone abreast of what was going on and what the next step was going to be,” Dzurek said. “I use the word ‘stressful’ because Officer (Micah) Long and I were the only two on to begin with, and the township was falling apart. Cars in water here, cars in water there, trees down here, people stuck between two areas of flooding and can’t go anywhere.”

Dzurek, who has been with the Douglass police for more than a decade, said Thursday’s flooding of creeks and roadways was the worst local natural disaster he’s ever seen on the job, especially since it led to multiple fatalities. He said he received an unconfirmed report from the township’s road master that more than 6 inches of rain had fallen locally by 4 p.m.

“In the 14-going-on-15-years I’ve been with the department, I’ve never seen rain fall that quickly and cause as much destruction in this area as it did today,” Dzurek said.


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