A submerged car was found near a man’s body in a rain-swollen creek in the San Diego County community of Rainbow on Monday morning. Swift-water rescue crews plan to search inside for a child reported missing.
Firefighters and search-and-rescue crews started searching the area about 4:20 p.m. Sunday after nearby residents called 911 worried that a child had been swept away by the fast-moving creek, which flows behind the Rainbow Oaks Restaurant on 5th Street just a few hundred feet east of Interstate 15.
About two hours later, a man’s body was found in the water.
Because the creek was too treacherous to venture into, rescue workers weren’t able to pull the body to shore until Monday morning, said North County Fire Protection District spokesman John Buchanan.
As the creek receded Monday the wheels of an upside down white sedan were exposed roughly 25 feet from where the man’s body had been found.
Sheriff’s spokesman Ryan Keim said firefighters received word late Sunday night that a man and a child had gone missing from the area.
Officials have not been able to verify if the body found belongs to the same man reported missing. Divers were trying to look in the vehicle Monday but the conditions were making it difficult, Keim said.
Rick Uhler, who lives just east of the creek, said nearby 5th Street was closed due to flooding around the time the search began. He said closures haven’t stopped people from trying to drive through the area in the past. The road dips at the creek and frequently gets flooded during rains.
“I’ve been here 15 years and have actually watched cars get washed off the road while they try to cross,” he said. “I’ve told people not to cross in the past.” He and officials estimated the creek was eight feet higher than normal Sunday afternoon.
“It was the worst I’ve ever seen,” Uhler said. “This is a tragedy.”
Jonell and Duke Maples own the Rainbow Oaks, a business complex just off Olde Highway 395 that includes a restaurant, a market, a gas station and several rental apartments.
Duke Maples said about 4 p.m. he saw five of his tenants running along the banks of the creek.
“They were screaming and yelling,” he said. “I was thinking maybe somebody’s dog had gone in.”
Jonell Maples said shortly before that time a man in a large diesel pickup truck had stopped for gas and told her he had just driven through the creek. “He said, ‘Oh my God,’ the water came up to my windshield,’” she said, adding that would have made the depth of the water at the 5th Street street crossing at least four feet deep.
Duke Maples said he had seen the creek that full only once before, a short time after he bought the property nine years ago.
“It was high and fast,” Jonell Maples said.
If the sedan did get swept into the gorged creek Sunday afternoon it then had to have floated at least 100 feet downstream and beneath a small wooden bridge before coming to rest.
Heim, the Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said the rescue efforts have been tough and frustrating for first responders.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s a tragic situation. Our thoughts are with the victims and the families of the victims.”