MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The woman who was driving a car filled with children when it veered off a suburban Minneapolis highway ramp and plunged into 9 feet of water did not have a valid driver's license, authorities said.
Two of the five children died, authorities confirmed Friday, while three remained hospitalized a day after the crash. The five children, ages 1 to 7, were removed from the car after it was towed into shallower water.
Two of the hospitalized children are improving and are responding to commands, a family spokesman said Friday. "So that's a huge improvement," attorney Rick Petry said. The third child remains in stable but critical condition.
The driver, Marion Guerrido, is the mother of three of the children; the other two children are her boyfriend's. She had a Minnesota driver's permit but not a license, said State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske. Guerrido's permit was considered invalid because she was not driving with a licensed driver, as required, at the time of the crash, he said.
The crash happened Thursday morning in St. Louis Park. Guerrido was driving northwest on Highway 7 toward Highway 100 on the damp roadway when the 1998 Pontiac Grand Am went into a storm water pond, the State Patrol said. Petry said Guerrido was taking the children to her mother's to finish getting them ready for school when the crash happened.
Guerrido escaped and screamed for help, but the children were trapped inside as the car sank in water that was 8 to 9 feet deep, said State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske. Passers-by unsuccessfully tried to rescue the children before police arrived.
"Obviously it was a very chaotic situation, a very unusual situation because of a number of factors: the temperature of the water, the depth, no information about initially what had happened," Roeske said. "All we knew were there were kids in a vehicle at the bottom of a pond."
The investigation into the crash is likely to take several weeks.
"We have not identified anything or ruled out anything at this time, other than alcohol," Roeske said, adding that there was no evidence Guerrido had been drinking. "We have received no information nor have encountered any evidence that would indicate it was an intentional act, but the investigation continues."
He said once the investigation is complete, the case would be forwarded to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office to determine if charges will be filed.
St. Louis Park authorities on Friday released a transcript of the 911 call from someone reporting the crash at 6:10 a.m. Thursday. The caller reported hearing a woman screaming for help from the holding pond near the highway ramp.
"There's something like scary over there, um ..." the caller said, according to the transcript.
Roeske said rescuers pulled the children out one by one. The first child was pulled from the water about 25 minutes after the crash was reported, and the last one was in the water for about 45 minutes.
Authorities confirmed Friday that two of them — 5-year-old Zenavia Rennie and 7-year-old Alarious Coleman-Guerrido — had died. The other three children were identified as Aliyana Rennie, 1, Amani Coleman-Guerrido, 5, and Zarihana Rennie, 6.
Marion Guerrido is doing "as well as expected, given these circumstances," as is her boyfriend, Petry said. Alarious Coleman-Guerrido, Amani Coleman-Guerrido and Aliyana Rennie are the driver's children.
"One day everything is fine and the next day you're kind of in no-man's land," he said.
The intersection near this ramp has seen 18 crashes from 2010-2012, including one last year in which another vehicle went into the same storm water pond, said Minnesota Department of Transportation spokeswoman Bobbie Dahlke.
She characterized the figure as "relatively low" for an intersection with signals and noted that the data includes the whole intersection, not just the ramp where Thursday's crash occurred.
The Transportation Department is planning a $60 million Highway 100 reconstruction project that will remove that entrance ramp and build a new one on the south side of Highway 7. She said the ramp at issue is being relocated to maximize the merging distance for vehicles on Highway 100, not because of safety concerns.
Jeff Baenen contributed to this story from Minneapolis.