Girl, 4, not restrained before deadly 18-wheeler crash, sheriff says

By Daniela Sternitzky-Di Napoli - Digital News Editor, Cathy Hernandez - Reporter

HIGHLANDS, Texas - A child was killed and her father was left in critical condition after their car flew off the East Freeway and landed upside down under two bridges in east Harris County, authorities said.

According to authorities, the accident happened around 7 a.m. Wednesday on the East Freeway near Crosby Lynchburg Road.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez shared the information in a tweet, saying an 18-wheeler and a sedan were involved in the crash. Somehow, the sedan went over a guardrail and landed below the freeway, Gonzales said.

During a news conference, deputies said both vehicles were traveling westbound on the freeway.

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Preliminary investigations show the truck may have tried to merge into the sedan’s lane, and that’s when the accident happened, deputies said.

Prosecutor Sean Teare, with the Harris County District Attorney's Office Vehicular Crime's Unit, was at the scene and said the driver in front of the 18-wheeler stopped abruptly and the 18-wheeler swerved to avoid it and hit the family's car.

"It appears that it was a normal traffic merging of two or three cars and anybody who's driven in Houston knows that happens all the time. This is just one of those convergence of events that ended in a horrible tragedy," said Teare.

The vehicle went over a guardrail and landed below the freeway, authorities said.

Family members identified the family as 35-year-old Jorge Alejandro Bonilla, 24-year-old Carmen Madrid and 4-year-old Bridgett Bonilla.

Deputies said Bonilla - who was driving - was trapped in the vehicle. He had to be cut out and flown by LifeFlight to a hospital.

Madrid was uninjured, but when deputies arrived, she was distraught telling them Bridgett was still in the vehicle, authorities said.

Deputies said they, along with paramedics, searched the scene and were about to call in a boat to search the river when a paramedic spotted Bridgett under the front of the car.

Authorities lifted the vehicle off her, but Bridgett was pronounced dead at the scene, deputies said.

Ed Gonzalez, Harris County Sheriff said both Bonilla and Madrid were properly restrained, but Bridgett was not in a child seat or wearing a seatbelt.

READ: 5 mistakes parents make with kids, car seats 

Sgt. Eduardo Rivera said the family was on their way home after working overnight.

“(Madrid) indicated they are from Honduras," Rivera said. "(She said) they’ve been here for a month and she was coming here to give her daughter a better way of life.”

Authorities said Madrid was taken to the hospital to be with Bonilla, who is now conscious.

Rivera said the driver of the 18-wheeler stayed on the scene and is cooperating with authorities.

No charges have been filed in the crash.

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