LOS ANGELES – Braving the cold and howling of coyotes, 9-year-old Celia Renteria was certain her father was still alive when she crawled out of a steep Southern California canyon and walked in the desert darkness to summon help after a rollover crash.
With temperatures dipping into the 40s, she hiked through rugged terrain to a nearby home. No one answered. Then she hiked up the rocky embankment and along the remote highway to a commuter rail station where she flagged down a passing motorist early Sunday.
When officers responded, they found Celia’s father, Alejandro Renteria, 35, dead. He was pinned in the driver’s seat.
In all, she trekked nearly two miles.
“She was very courageous, being able to walk through the dark, through bushes and very rough terrain to get help for her dad,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Gil Hernandez. “Had she just waited there, we probably would not have found her until the next day.”
The Renterias’ 2010 Ford Escape was launched about 200 feet down into the canyon along an isolated stretch of the Sierra Highway in the high desert of northern Los Angeles County at about 1 a.m. Sunday, the CHP said. The vehicle flipped several times.
Authorities said Celia managed to free herself from the mangled wreck to find help. She finally found a passing motorist near Acton, a small town tucked in the mountains between Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert.
Law enforcement officials praised Celia’s bravery and tenacity.
“She walked quite a distance in a very, very threatening environment,” CHP Sgt. Tom Lackey told KABC-TV. “It’s very steep and it’s brushy and there’s also coyotes in the background.”
A helicopter airlifted the girl to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She was treated for minor injuries including bumps and bruises and a cut on her face.
“She’s in good condition,” Lyndsay Hutchison, a hospital spokeswoman, said Monday.
On video shot by the family in the hospital, the girl said she was cold and hurt, according to KCBS-TV. She told her family she was saddened to learn her father did not survive the crash.