ROXANA — A woman and her young son were found dead Wednesday inside a vehicle in a pond near Roxana, about 20 miles northeast of St. Louis.
The victims were inside a Kia minivan submerged in about 10 to 12 feet of water, near Wanda and Wagon Wheel roads. They remained in the pond more than nine hours until rescuers could pull the vehicle to dry land.
Crews pulled the van out at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, confirming what they had feared — that its occupants were dead, said Todd Werner, fire chief of the South Roxana Fire Protection District.
Rescuers found the woman and her son unbuckled in the van with its windows up and doors closed.
The Madison County Sheriff’s Office identified the victims as Ashly E. Maynard, 34, and her son Vincent W. Maynard, 7. They both lived in Wood River.
The boy was a student in the Edwardsville School District. The elementary school he attended was making counselors and social workers available for classmates and staff members.
“This is a very strong family, and they have a lot of friends in their network,” Sheriff John Lakin said. “This is a true tragic event.”
Madison County sheriff’s Lt. Brian Koberna said the investigation is “wide open.” The driver may have swerved to avoid an animal in the road, he said.
A witness called 911 at 6:39 p.m. Tuesday, saying he saw headlights in a pond. The first Roxana police officer to arrive saw the back of the van sinking in the water, about 70 feet from shore, said Roxana Police Chief Will Cunningham.
The officer gave firefighters a good description of where the vehicle went under, Cunningham said.
A dive team from Swansea was the first in the water, Cunningham said.
Werner said the ambient air temperature overnight hovered between 29 and 31 degrees but that he didn't know how cold the water was.
After several hours, a dive team from Hillsboro, Illinois, replaced the first group of exhausted divers.
Werner said dive teams had located the van by 11 p.m but couldn’t get hooks positioned on the vehicle to pull it out for several more hours. By the time the van was brought out, its headlights were off, probably because the battery shorted, Werner said.
“It was very somber,” Werner said. “Everybody was sad to see someone in the car.”
The time it took divers to get to the scene with the proper cold-water gear delayed the recovery, Werner said.
“With the water being that cold, entering without a cold-water wet suit would just incapacitate you within minutes,” Werner said. “Your body freezes up really. Your muscles tighten up and you aren’t able to function.”
While police referred to the water as a pond or retention pond, Roxana Fire Chief Daryl Trask called it more of a borrow pit, a marshy area with sand and dirt and water with a sandy, grassy bottom. He said the water was 20 to 30 yards at most from Wanda Road.
Trask said Wanda Road there is straight and not lighted. He could not recall any cases in recent years where a motorist died in the same pit. The office of Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn said he would be releasing details later.
Rachel Rice of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated with additional information about the cold environment experienced by divers, such as the ambient air temperature during the search instead of water temperature.