Two bodies found after car was swept into canal

Two bodies found after car was swept into canal

ALBANY, Ore. – A car with several people inside was swept into a canal Wednesday night in Albany as flooding enveloped a store's parking lot, killing two people.

The remains of a toddler, Aiden McLaughlin, who was in the vehicle, was found Thursday morning. Family members helping in the search found the body of his mother, 18-year-old Catharine McLaughlin, around 1 p.m. on Thursday, according to the Albany Fire Department.

Two other people in the car survived.

Water from heavy rainfall flooded the Mega Foods parking lot at the intersection of Geary and Queen just after 8 p.m. and several cars began to float. Albany Fire Department spokeswoman Wanda Omdahl said one of the cars somehow floated into a canal that is next to the lot and was pulled under.

"The rain has just kept coming," Omdahl said. "The flooding is significant."

Rescuers called off the search for the night after two hours of searching because the conditions in the canal were too dangerous.

After the car went into the canal, which is called Perriwinkle Creek, it floated into a culvert that's under a street.

Police said the driver of the vehicle, Christopher Wilgus, 24, of Albany and his son, Maliki, 5, escaped the vehicle and were pulled from the water. They were taken to Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Christopher was released Thursday night but his son remained in critical condition.

The canal is about 10 to 12 feet deep, they said, and runs into a culvert that flows beneathe city streets.

Linn County Sheriff Search and Rescue team searched the banks of Periwinkle Creek for Catherine McLaughlin. Albany police said Linn County Sheriff’s Office and Albany Fire Department also were deployed to locate and recover the vehicle. Heavy rain had swollen the creek and other local waterways with fast-moving water on Thursday.

A witness said he tried to smash the car's window as it was sinking, but it floated away and was filling with water. He was unable to hold on as the vehicle filled with water while moving down the flood-swollen canal, he said.

"My friend Jim was like, 'Do you have anything metal? Anything we can break the windows with?' So we got a hammer and he broke the window but at that point the car started sinking so far that we couldn't save it," Zach Williams said.

Witness Adam Chance said he arrived just after 7 p.m. in the parking lot of an Albany grocery store and saw the trunk of the car submerge in the swirling brown water.

A few people standing on the banks waded in but were unable to contend with the violent current drawing water and debris into the mouth of the culvert.

"They got sucked into the pipe," Chance said. "(The culvert) was just sucking down like a straw."

The toddler's paternal grandmother, Andrea Hemenway, told The Oregonian newspaper she was in disbelief.

"I'm numb," Hemenway told the newspaper. "I can't believe what happened, you know. It's awful."

She remembered Aiden as "a wonderful little boy — a happy, go-lucky little guy."

Wilgus and his son were taken to the hospital. Their conditions have not been released.

Oregon State climatologist Kathie Dello said the Hawaiian "Pineapple Express" is responsible for the wet weather. The system is creating a fire hose-like effect, dumping a concentrated stream of Pacific moisture on a small area in the western Willamette Valley.

KATU News reporters Meghan Kalkstein, Joe Raineri and the Associated Press contributed to this report.