JACKSON, Calif. -- Rescue workers struggled for hours Saturday to recover the bodies of a woman and three children, ages 1 through 3, who died when their car plunged into a frigid river.
The driver -- the boyfriend of the woman and father of two of the children -- survived and was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter. The man and his brother told authorities they were washed downstream when they opened a door to get out.
The car hurtled into the Mokelumne River about 40 miles southeast of Sacramento on Friday afternoon. After floating about 400 yards downstream, it wedged against a rock as water filled the car and rushed over the top.
After darkness cut short their efforts to retrieve the bodies Friday, rescuers on a boat struggled against rapids for five hours Saturday and removed two of the children's bodies. Later a helicopter hoisted the white sedan out of the 57-degree water, but only the mother was inside.
"It's been a difficult day, but it's not done yet," Amador County Sheriff Mike Trizmich said Saturday afternoon.
Authorities arrested driver Joshua Julin, 20, of nearby Mokelumne Hill. Witnesses described the car speeding on the narrow road that parallels the river, a California Highway Patrol spokeswoman said.
Julin's father, Bret, said the woman was Katie Corbett, his son's girlfriend of about a year. He identified the children as Corbett's daughter Kiara, 2, and Julin's daughter Mariah, 3, and son Andrew, 1.
"What a way to treat somebody, put them in jail when their kids are dead," Bret Julin said at dawn Saturday as he stood holding two roses on a bridge over the river, which was pounding with water from snow melting in the Sierra Nevada.
Bret Julian said he had tried to wade into the water holding on to a rope attached to the shore to save his grandchildren, but authorities ordered him back.
"They were beautiful kids. They were sharp, bright, full of life," Julin said. "I am just mad as hell, mad at the world. I just feel so helpless, furious. That water was moving so fast, so cold."
Early Saturday morning, Corbett's two sisters walked to the bank of the river with flowers and waited as waters battered the car about 50 yards away.
Michelle Corbett, 25, said her sister and Julin were a great couple.
"They found their family. It was perfect. They needed her and she needed them," Corbett said. "She took care of her little girl by herself. She's so caring she took in two children who needed a mother."