Mom shares heartbreaking story of son swept away by California floodwaters

Mom shares heartbreaking story of son swept away by California floodwaters

Mom shares heartbreaking story of son swept away by California floodwaters

Lindsy Doan didn’t think the water flowing over the creek crossing on San Marcos Road was deeper than normal when she tried to navigate it in her SUV while driving her 5-year-old son to the ‘school.

But the stream, swollen with rain from California’s Epic Winter Storms, was much higher and flowing more heavily than she had anticipated. Doan swore as he lost steering control and the 4,300-pound Chevy Traverse was swept off the road and stuck against a tall sycamore tree.

“Mom, are you okay,” her son, Kyle, reassured her from the back seat. “Just be calm.”

Those were the last words the little boy said to his mother before his fingers slipped from hers and he was swept away on the central California coast near Paso Robles on Monday.

California Storms missing boy
This undated photo provided by the Doan family shows Kyle Doan.

Doan family via AP


“Yesterday I got to the point where I think I didn’t have any more tears,” Doan told The Associated Press. “I don’t know what to expect anymore. I mean, I tried doing a Google search: how long can a child not eat? How long can they stay in wet clothes? … We’re worried because I don’t know if they’ll be able to find him.”

More than 100 people, including National Guard troops, dive teams, searchers using dogs and drones, and people scavenging shoulder-high piles of driftwood on the banks of San Marcos Creek, searched Kyle a third day Wednesday. So far they have only found one of his blue and gray Nike shoes.

The authorities have called the research a “top priority”.

Storms that have relentlessly battered California since late last year have claimed at least 18 lives. Most of the deaths were caused by falling trees and people driving on flooded roads.

Kyle was missing.

California Storms missing boy
In this photo provided by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, rescuers resume their search on Jan. 11, 2023, to find 5-year-old Kyle Doan, who was swept away two days earlier by floodwaters near San Miguel, in California.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office via AP


With a sister in high school and a brother in college, he is the baby of his family and loves being the center of attention.

“He definitely took advantage of it,” his mother said. “He loves to make everyone laugh. He wanted to make everyone smile. He loves to make people happy.”

As the holidays were coming to an end, Kyle was excited to return to kindergarten Monday at Lillian Larsen Elementary School, his mother said. It was the first day he was going to be allowed to play without restrictions after recovering from a broken leg that required three surgeries and he was looking forward to seeing his friends again.

Doan, a special education teacher at the school, was less enthusiastic, wishing for a few extra days off as she took the side road from their home near Paso Robles.

For most of the year, the creek that runs along San Marcos Road is like so many Californian rivers and streams – a winding strip of sand that only flows with winter and spring rains. When it is flowing, it is often quite easy to cross the shallow water that crosses the road in places.

The Doan family took the same route Sunday to a truck stop on Highway 101, splashing through the waters without incident.

When Doan approached the creek on Monday in light rain, there was no road closure and she didn’t think it looked any different from the day before.

“But as soon as I hit bottom my car started to drift and I realized it wasn’t the same thing,” she said. “It was completely different.”

Scotty Jalbert, San Luis Obispo County emergency services manager, said river crossings can be tricky and people can get into trouble after successfully crossing them multiple times. As little as 6 inches of water is enough to knock a person over and can even swerve a car if it’s moving fast.

“We use the term ‘Turn around, don’t drown,'” Jalbert said. “With this tragedy, when responders arrived at the scene, the water was on top of the vehicle. Obviously, this type of energy is going to cause a bad situation.”

Jalbert said someone stuck in a car taking on water should get out if they can and get on the roof, if possible.

Neil Collins and his wife, Danielle, who own an orchard off San Marcos Road, had come down to the creek that morning to see if they could get through the floodwaters.

When he saw waves of muddy brown water and the steady flow carrying sturdy oak and sycamore branches downstream, he said, “This isn’t going to end well for anyone.”

In 15 minutes, his prediction came true.

After Doan’s car came to rest against the trees, it started taking on water, so she decided to abandon it. The windows wouldn’t close, but she was able to open her door and hug a tree. With the current pinning the back door closed, she told Kyle to leave his things and get in the front seat.

“I don’t care about your backpack,” she said. “I just want you to come to me.”

She managed to grab his hand but her grip was tenuous and the current swept Kyle across the tree.

“I could feel his fingers slipping from mine,” she said.

As the water separated them, she let go of the tree to try to grab her son, who couldn’t swim.

“I saw his head float and he was looking at me because he was backing away,” she said. “I was trying to keep my head above water, but the currents kept pulling me down. And after a while I didn’t see Kyle or what was going on.”

Collins missed seeing Doan driving in the creek. But her screams caught his attention.

“I looked at my wife and said, ‘That looks like a human,'” he said. “I heard a second scream and ran back up the river.”

In a typical winter, the river can get waist deep, but he guessed it was up to 12 feet deep and four times its width when flowing.

After spotting Lindsy Doan struggling to stay afloat, Collins noticed another body floating in the middle of the stream and thought it looked lifeless. So he focused on Doan, who was closer to shore.

He ran alongside her downstream while his wife called 911 and orchard workers brought a rope. Eventually, Doan managed to grab a few branches of bushes underwater, and Collins and his crew threw a lifeline at him.

Doan was hysterical when she came ashore, Collins said. It was only then that he realized the other figure passing by was his little boy.

If Doan had floated another 100 yards, he’s not sure he could have helped her. An embankment and a barbed wire fence would have prevented him from running beside her.

“Time is running out,” he said.

Brian Doan, Kyle’s father, is grateful his wife was saved. He doesn’t blame her for going that route and thinks she did the right thing to try and save their son.

Lindsy Doan keeps questioning herself.

“In the back of your mind, it’s like, ‘Well, what if, what if, what if I turn around and come back the other way? “, She said. “What if, what if I had just decided, ‘Hey, you know, let’s not go down this road today?’ I don’t know if it will ever go away.”

When asked what his son might say to him in that moment, Doan took a breath and collected his thoughts before saying that Kyle always wanted his family to be happy and feel good.

“Maybe he would say something like… ‘There’s nothing you can do, Mom, it’s okay. You’ll be fine.'”

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