POSTED: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - 7:44pm
UPDATED: Thursday, February 23, 2012 - 12:21pm
ST. AMANT, La (NBC33) — A tragic car crash in St. Amant leaves an entire community mourning the loss of two little girls Wednesday. Authorities say their mother lost control of her car and careened into the bayou off of Stringer Ridge Road.
State police say Raelyn Encalade, 28, and two of her daughter's friends made it out of the crash alive. Encalade's own daughters, Patience, 7, and Faith, 9, did not survive.
Toby Ragus lives a half a mile from the spot where Encalade's car went into the water.
"We heard the squeal of the tires and what sounded like a vehicle rolling," he says.
Within seconds, Ragus and his wife were on the scene. "I didn't hesitate. I think my vehicle may have still been rolling when I jumped out. I just bailed out into the water. I could tell by the rate that it was sinking that I didn't have much time," he says. "I'm glad I could help. I didn't anything someone else wouldn't have done."
His decision to act saved two lives.
"All I seen was a hand coming out of the water," he says. "I could see the fingers, you know, and I just reached down and I think it was the good Lord working out and I was able to catch her by the elbow and pull her up."
Then, it became a frantic fight to save the two girls still trapped inside the car. "It was everything these first responders could do, everything these bystanders can do," says Chief James LeBlanc with the St. Amant Fire Department.
First responders from several different agencies worked tirelessly to rescue the children for more than 45 minutes.
"We're dealing with night time. We're dealing with coldness. We're dealing with being unable to see at all under the water," says volunteer firefighter Shane Rojas
In the end, the girls could not be saved.
"It's heartbreaking. It's the worst thing we have to deal with," says Louisiana State Trooper Russell Graham.
Now, community is trying to pick up the pieces. "Anytime it's dealing with children, it's more than you can ever bear," says Chief LeBlanc. "It's more than you can ever deal with."
They grieve for a family torn apart too soon.
"I was just thinking about my own daughters when I jumped in that water," says Ragus. "You see the mother in anguish and you just feel that pain."
This is not the first accident that has happened along that stretch of road. LeBlanc says in the last five years, they've responded to four or five similar crashes.