Toddler found after wandering across freeway following crash

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

HIXTON, Wis. -- A 2-year-old girl who survived a car crash that killed her parents wandered across a freeway and was found in a grove of trees three hours later by authorities who tracked her footprints in the snow.

The girl, Anita Kayachith, was at home with relatives in Minnesota on Monday, three days after the wreck.

"She is doing great," said Houmpheng Phongsavath, an uncle of one of the victims.

The car was struck by a tractor-trailer that slid on ice and crossed the median of Interstate 94 early Friday, the Wisconsin State Patrol said. The car slid under the truck. The girl's parents, who were from Brooklyn Park, Minn., were killed.

A trooper who noticed children's clothing, diapers and a "sippy" cup in the car started searching for a child.

Trooper Rhonda Waldera, who is pregnant with her third child, spotted small footprints in the half-inch of new snow. Anita was sitting by a fence, in a pink shirt or jacket and in stocking feet in 25-degree cold.

"She was quiet. She didn't say anything. She wasn't crying or anything like that," said Lt. Darren Price.

Investigators said the toddler was probably sleeping in the back seat of the car and climbed out after the accident.

"She has just a scratch on her head, but nothing big," said Sandy Kayachith, whose brother, Laotian-born Souvorachak Kayachith, 21, and his wife, Melinda Athakhanh, 20, died in the crash.

"I think my brother was just holding on and then helped her out," she said. "I think their spirit guided her and protected her, and that's why she lasted so long."

The family was traveling to Georgia and Florida to visit relatives.

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