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A GoFundMe has been set up to help the family with expenses.


Two young Sonoma County sisters died while on their way to school Wednesday when their mother lost control of her car on Petaluma Boulevard North and crashed into the Petaluma River.

It was the second fatal crash into a Sonoma County river in eight days, following an accident on the Russian River that killed two Jenner sisters.

The girls who died Wednesday, identified by the Sonoma County Coroner’s Office as Sayra, 7, and Delilah Gonzalez, 9, of Rohnert Park, were trapped in their mother’s car, which ended upside down and submerged in the Petaluma River just after 8 a.m.

Their mother, Alexandra Hernandez, 26, also of Rohnert Park, was able to escape. The CHP reported she was not a licensed driver.

The similarities between the Aug. 22 crash near Jenner that killed 4- and 7-year-old sisters, and Wednesday morning’s are eerily grim.

Both killed young sisters. In both, mothers lost control of their vehicles, went down steep embankments and ended up in rivers. Both times, the mothers escaped. And in both cases, frantic efforts by civilians and public safety officers to reach the girls, already underwater for several minutes, played out in an emotionally charged scene with distraught family members nearby,

“The fact that we’ve had two of these in several days, it’s weighing heavily on a lot of people right now. ...I have not seen anything like this in Sonoma County since I’ve been here” the past 16 years, CHP Officer Jon Sloat said.

According to CHP, the crash occurred just after 8 a.m. north of Gossage Avenue. The CHP said Hernandez had dropped off the children’s father and her partner at his work site on Petaluma Boulevard North and was headed to Rohnert Park to take her daughters to Waldo Rohnert Elementary School.

The CHP said the car was in the left lane of the divided four-lane boulevard when it drifted into the median. When Hernandez overcorrected, the white, Chevy Impala LS shot across the roadway and down a steep 20-foot embankment just north of the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets, crashing through heavy brush and oak trees, before overturning and sliding into a narrow stretch of the river that runs along the boulevard.

The car quickly sank in 6 feet of water and was fully submerged.

Several agencies responded. Petaluma Police Lt. Tim Lyons said his department received a call about the crash at 8:11 a.m. One Petaluma officer on a traffic stop a quarter-mile away rushed to the call, as did numerous others from the nearby police station.

Multiple units had arrived by 8:14 a.m., including firefighters from Petaluma.

One driver who witnessed the crash pulled over and scrambled down the embankment, where he saw the mother standing on the car. According to Sloat, the man tried unsuccessfully to reach the two girls.

Eight police officers — some still wearing their gun and equipment belts — and two Petaluma firefighters ran down to the river, jumped in and began trying to reach the girls, said Lyons.

They dove in, desperately trying to force open a door or window to access the girls, still strapped upside down by their seat belts in the water-filled car.

The green, murky water limited visibility and the doors of the damaged vehicle couldn’t be easily opened. There also was an uneven river bottom and blocks of concrete and tree branches around the car.

“They were trying to help get the kids out,” said Lyons. “They all headed in there trying to help.”

A few got inside the car but couldn’t initially free the girls.

A Petaluma firefighter donned a breathing mask normally used in fighting fires, and dove down to the submerged car. He was able to cut the girls free and pull them out.

Lyons arrived at the scene about 8:25 a.m. as the girls were being carried up the embankment by first responders, who immediately began CPR. He estimated the girls were underwater at least 20 minutes.

Responders continued CPR while the girls were taken in separate ambulances to the Petaluma Valley Hospital emergency room.

“I was down in the ER with them and they kept doing CPR,” said Rancho Adobe Fire Chief Frank Treanor, who had five firefighters and a battalion chief also help on the traumatic call. They arrived as the girls were being brought out of the water, Treanor said. “The outcome was probably going to be not so good from before they got there, but if there was a chance in the world they were given it.”

The girls were pronounced dead at the hospital.

The Petaluma firefighter that freed the girls received treatment at the hospital, as well as a police officer who cut himself on the wrecked car and required stitches.

Divers who later helped hook up the car to get it towed out also helped recover guns and other police tools lost during the hurried underwater efforts.

A distraught Hernandez remained at the scene initially while other family members also gathered. She suffered minor injuries, and was later taken to Petaluma Valley Hospital.

A car bumper along the side of the boulevard was the largest piece of debris scattered at the scene. Nearby was a dark blue and turquoise backpack with pink straps, a pink athletic shoe and a blue jacket.

Northbound Petaluma Boulevard North was closed for six hours between Gossage Avenue and Skillman Lane.

Sloat said he was told by investigating officers they did not find any evidence of car or booster seats. State law requires car or booster seats for children until age 8 or they reach a height of 4 feet 9 inches. It was unclear whether the younger girl required one.

He said Hernandez told investigators she had been cut off in traffic, but officers said they haven’t located any witnesses. The CHP is investigating why Hernandez lost control of her car and whether speed was a factor.

The crash mirrors last week’s deadly one into the Russian River near Jenner, which killed Hailey, 4, and Kaitlyn Markus, 6. In that case, their mother had been driving them to school when she lost control of her truck on a wet road and veered down an embankment into the water. The services for the Jenner sisters was Wednesday afternoon.

Some of Wednesday’s first responders also were at last week’s crash, including four CHP officers, who planned to attend the Jenner girls’ funeral services.

Anyone with information about the crash is asked to call the CHP at 707-588-1400.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707-521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.