Noble Co. community mourns after father, 2 daughters crash, end up in river

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LIGONIER, Ind. (WNDU) - A small Noble County community is in shock after a father and his two daughters were killed when their vehicle went off the road and into the Elkhart River.

Their father, J.J. Reyes, had been driving them to school with his daughters, 15-year-old Zulia Reyes and 13-year-old Valeria Reyes, when he lost control at a curve at County Road 700 West and Ball Road just before 10 a.m. Their vehicle went into the Elkhart River and the three died.

“When I got to the school, I waited for her to come down the stairs and meet me, but she didn’t come,” said Zulia Reyes’ boyfriend, Gary Ratliff. “Me and Olivia checked her location and it was around a curve in the river.”

Students at West Noble High School knew something was wrong when Zulia and her sister didn’t show up to school on Monday.

It’s any driver’s worst nightmare, so what do you do if your vehicle ends up in a body of water?

“Staying calm is going to be tough, but that’s how you’re going to survive any situation,” Indiana Department of Natural Resources field officer Levi Knach said.

Knach says if your vehicle is in the water, first take off your seat belt and open or break a window.

“Anything that has a point is going to break it, and I’m going to have to put some pressure on it and actually hit it, and what it’s going to do is it’s going to spider,” Knach said. “Your front windshield has a bunch of different layers to it, so you don’t want to go out your windshield. You want to go out one of these two doors and obviously not this one.”

If water is rushing into your vehicle, you may have to wait until it’s filled before you’re able to swim out.

Another important note is to know where you are so you can tell emergency responders where to find you.

There’s a message the family’s friends want the community to take with them.

“I feel like everyone should forgive one another, because you never know the next day what’s going to happen,” classmate and friend Angela Caldwell said. “I would feel 10 times worse if I was mad at Zulia for something and then I went into the guidance counselor and heard what happened to her and her family.”

The principal at West Noble High School is putting together a memorial at the school where students can leave items or notes for the Reyes sisters.

A GoFundMe has also been set up to help the family with funeral expenses. Click here to find that page.