Authorities Monday evening recovered from Wards Creek the body of an elderly woman and the silver Toyota Rav 4 she was driving after the vehicle apparently veered off a frontage road and plunged into the creek near the Mall of Louisiana.
East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies and St. George Fire Department firefighters traveled by boat up and down the rain-swollen creek for several hours Monday afternoon searching for the vehicle. Divers were also in the water looking for the small sport utility vehicle.
A woman flagged down a sheriff’s deputy around 1:35 p.m. after witnessing the incident, which occurred just off the Interstate 10 east entrance ramp to the Mall of Louisiana, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks said.
The witness told deputies she saw the SUV, belonging to Vivian Augustin, 89, 352 W. Chalfont Drive, accelerate and drive off the embankment at Frontage Road at I-10 East and into the creek below, Hicks said.
A bridge connects the I-10 exit ramp to Frontage Road, which then becomes Mall of Louisiana Boulevard.
Members of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office Emergency Services Unit and St. George Fire Department used pike poles to poke at the bottom of the creek, which was 25 to 30 feet deep, until they located the vehicle around 4:45 p.m., Hicks said.
Acadian Ambulance also used its Air Med helicopter to look for the vehicle, Hicks said.
Sheriff’s Office divers then went into the water and chained the vehicle to a tow truck that pulled it out of the water and onto shore around 5:40 p.m.
Authorities found only one person, Augustin, in the SUV, Hicks said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The vehicle’s windows were broken, which means it filled with water and sank to the bottom of the creek shortly after landing in it, Hicks said.
Authorities found pieces of glass under the bridge, likely from the windows, Hicks said.
The Coroner’s Office will perform an autopsy to determine Augustin’s exact cause of death, Hicks said.
The investigation is ongoing, Hicks said.
Authorities shut down the interstate entrance and exit ramps in the area for several hours while working the scene, leading to traffic jams around the mall.
Tire tracks were faintly visible where the car ran off the road. A guard rail extends only about 40 yards from the bridge at the top of the ramp.
Redell Harris, 50, said he was driving down Mall of Louisiana Boulevard toward Frontage Road when he saw the vehicle drive into the creek.
Harris said he saw the car go down river after running into the stream. He said it appeared the driver mishandled the turn.
“They couldn’t get out of that car the way that car was driving,” Harris said of the chances of the woman escaping.
Harris said he also expects the short guard rail in the area to be extended sometime in the future.
“They should’ve had them already,” Harris said.