LOS ANGELES (AP) — Braving the cold and howling of coyotes, nine-year-old Celia Renteria was certain her father was still alive when she crawled out of a steep Southern California canyon and walked in the desert darkness to summon for help after a rollover crash.
With temperatures dipping into the 40s, she hiked through rugged terrain to a nearby home. No one answered. Then she hiked up the rocky embankment and along the remote highway to a commuter rail station where she flagged down a passing motorist early Sunday.
When officers responded, they found Celia's father, Alejandro Renteria, 35, dead. He was pinned in the driver's seat.
In all, she trekked 1 1/2 to 2 miles.
"She was very courageous, being able to walk through the dark, through bushes and very rough terrain to get help for her dad," said California Highway Patrol Officer Gil Hernandez. "Had she just waited there, we probably would not have found her until the next day."
The Renterias' 2010 Ford Escape was launched about 200 feet down into the canyon along an isolated stretch of the Sierra Highway in the high desert of northern Los Angeles County at about 1 a.m. Sunday, the CHP said. The vehicle flipped several times.
Authorities said Celia managed to free herself from the mangled wreck to find help. She finally found a passing motorist near Acton, a small town tucked in the mountains between Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert.
Law enforcement officials praised Celia's bravery and tenacity.
"She walked quite a distance in a very, very threatening environment," CHP Sgt. Tom Lackey told KABC-TV. "It's very steep and it's brushy and there's also coyotes in the background."
A helicopter airlifted the girl to Children's Hospital Los Angeles. She was treated for minor injuries including bumps and bruises and a cut on her face.
"She's in good condition," Lyndsay Hutchison, a hospital spokeswoman, said Monday. She could not provide any further details, saying parents or a legal guardian must permit the release of information under medical privacy laws.
On video shot by the family in the hospital, the girl said she was cold and hurt, according to KCBS-TV. She told her family she was saddened to learn her father did not survive the crash.
The girl's caregiver Consuelo Amador told the station the child didn't panic, and turned off the car's engine after she smelled gasoline.
"They were really close, and that's what hurts me the most," the girl's sister Amber Mejia told KCBS. "He was actually the only father that sticked around my sister."
A coroner's spokesman said Monday that Alejandro Renteria was a resident of the North Hollywood section of Los Angeles. No one answered at two addresses in the area listed in his name.
Television footage showed crews using a long tow cable to remove the severely damaged black SUV from the canyon.
The CHP was investigating whether alcohol played a role in the crash. Toxicology tests are pending from the coroner.
Associated Press writers Robert Jablon and Shaya Tayefe Mohajer contributed to this report.