5 lives hung in the balance in moments after SUV tumbled into a Bledsoe County pond

photo The Einwtchener family, who suffered tragic losses in a Bledsoe County, Tenn., in pond accident.

A car horn screeched Monday night on Joe Hoffman's property. Outside, he and his family found a Ford Expedition, tipping toward a pond in their eastern Bledsoe County yard. Hoffman's daughter, 24-year-old Monique Einwechter, sat inside the car with her four children.

The biggest was 3 years old, the smallest 6 weeks old.

Leaving her parents' house, Einwechter had to drive across a dam just a couple of feet wider than her SUV. She steered too close, and the car fell on the passenger's side, splashing into the 35-degree water.

That fall, which led to the deaths of two of the children, has devastated the rural community on Rigsby Mountain in Bledsoe County, Tenn. The events have left neighbors and friends with little to do but pray for the family.

On Thursday afternoon, Einwechter's family members gave more details about exactly what happened near that pond, what went wrong.

After the Expedition tumbled, Hoffman, his 16-year-old son, another teenage boy and Monique's husband, Jonathan, ran toward the pond. Submerged, Monique unbuckled 1-year-old Titus' seat belt, Jonathan smashed a side window, and Monique handed the child to her husband.

Hoffman's son then broke the window in the back of the SUV and grabbed 2-year-old Jonathan David. Hoffman and the other boy, meanwhile, tried to hold the Expedition steady.

But, minutes after Einwechter slammed her car horn, the SUV flipped again, the tires now in the air, roof now resting at the bottom of the water. With two windows now broken open, water swallowed the inside of the vehicle.

Jonathan, 26, managed to swim through the near-freezing water to find his wife, unconscious. Five minutes after the SUV flipped a second time, he pulled Monique to land.

Scrambling in the dark, battling hypothermia, other family members jumped into the water, looked for the two missing children. But they couldn't see farther than 5 feet. The children -- 3-year-old Elise and 6-week-old Enoch -- were tucked somewhere in the car, too far away to find.

Both children were pronounced dead as emergency responders tried to fly them to the hospital.

Hoffman, 52, said the family is "emotionally devastated." But, he added, that's just one part of Monday's events -- the human part, the only part most people can understand.

MEMORIAL SERVICEThe Einwechters will host a memorial for the children they lost, Enoch and Elise, in Dayton at the Fort Bluff Youth Camp (370 Fort Bluff Camp Rd.) on Saturday at 1 p.m. All are welcome to attend.HOW TO HELPTo move to Tennessee, Jonathan Einwechter left his job at the warehouse in Pennsylvania. His family says they don't know how he will afford the costs related to Monday's events -- medical bills, funeral expenses. Anyone interested in learning more about the family or donating toward those funds can visit eliseandenoch.org

The deaths of two children are a tragedy, yes. But even as a toddler and a newborn drowned, Hoffman's family believes a higher power seized control.

They are focusing on the three lives saved, not the two gone.

"If the car had rolled [upside down] a minute sooner or a minute later," he said, "we probably would have lost everybody."

After the car flipped the second time, Monique lay underwater for about five minutes. When her husband pulled her out, she wasn't breathing, and liquid filled about 70 percent of her lungs.

But she's OK, Hoffman said Thursday. Doctors may even release her from Chattanooga's Memorial Hospital today.

On Saturday, the family will host a memorial for Elise and Enoch in Dayton at the Fort Bluff Youth Camp. Hoffman says hundreds will be there, hundreds who may otherwise have never known the children.

Those in attendance will hear about how Elise was more mature than 3 years old, how she asked adults if she could pray for them, how she asked others if they knew Jesus.

"God planned it, designed it," Hoffman said of Monday's events. "You see the hand of God in it."

About nine hours before the crash, the Einwechters had just arrived at 390 Hoffman Road, a name given the property when Joe bought the 34 acres in July 2012. Jonathan and Monique's arrival in town was the first step in a plan that they believed would lead them to South Sudan.

For years, the Einwechters supported missionaries in Africa from their home church in Lititz, Pa. They felt pulled to join the mission field themselves, said their sister-in-law, Carrie Hoffman. So they prayed, and they planned.

On Monday afternoon, they moved in with Monique's parents. They would save money and occasionally drive to North Carolina for missionary training courses. They would learn some native Sudanese languages and basic medical aid.

But first, on Monday, they painted their new apartment, located right behind the Hoffmans' house. At night, the paint fumes still wafted through the apartment, so the Einwechters decided to spend the night with a family friend.

"We thought it would be a place for them to get away," Hoffman said, "to relax a little bit."

Jonathan hopped in one car, and Monique drove the Expedition.

They don't know if their road still leads to South Sudan.

"At this point," Hoffman said, "none of us have really thought about that."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.