Zephyrhills man Jon Clanton and his children rescued after stroller rolls into canal in New York

4:45 PM, Aug 16, 2012   |    comments
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Rochester, NY (WGRZ/Democrat & Chronicle) -- A Florida father and his two children were pulled out of the Erie Canal by near Genesee Valley Park in New York Wednesday afternoon.

Jon Clanton of Zephyrhills was pushing a double stroller that held his two young children, 8-year-olds Sam and Saleh. They were walking along the Erie Canal path, when the stroller got away from Clanton, went over a steep embankment and into the water near Kendrick Road, according to Rochester Police.

Photo Gallery: Father, children pulled from NY canal

Clanton, 48, and his children were all taken to Strong Memorial Hospital. The children, each of whom had preexisting medical conditions before the accident, were listed in guarded condition Thursday morning.

A passerby witnessed the incident and called 911 at about 12:30 p.m. A cyclist also came upon the scene and went to the Roundhouse Shelter at nearby Genesee Valley Park for help. The cyclist quickly found several University of Rochester medical students and Dr. David Lambert, UR's senior associate dean of medical education, officers said.

Three of the students identified themselves as lifeguards and ran with Lambert to the water in search of Clanton and his children.

Two of the students, Bridget Hughes, 22, of Williamsville and Lindsay Wahl, 23, of Pittsford jumped into the water and swam to the stroller. Wahl swam with the boy and pulled him to an area where others could lift him out of the water. Hughes and the father stayed with the stroller and had difficulty getting the young girl free and -- with Wahl's help -- kept it afloat. Lambert and and the third student, Sarah Nevarez, 25, of Pittsford stayed on the path and helped pull children out.

The students and Lambert declined to be interviewed following the incident. University spokesman Michael Wentzel said the students acted heroically.

"The way it was described to me," he said. "Is that they didn't hesitate."

Collins said Clanton and his family had visited someone at the Ronald McDonald House earlier Wednesday and went for a walk along the canal path. He said it was not clear how long the children were in the water or underwater.

Dozens of Rochester police officers, firefighters and Rural/Metro employees were all at the scene. Among those investigating was a team from the department's homicide investigation unit. Police would not elaborate on the team's role in the investigation, but said it was standard procedure for an incident of this nature.

Officers are investigating and are interviewing witnesses at the scene.

A website devoted to Clanton's church, Grace Church of Zephyrhills, said he is senior chaplain at Zephryhills Correctional and has been pastor since January 2006.

During a news conference Thursday, Dr. Lambert read a statement from the Clanton family that thanked the Rochester police and fire departments and those from the University of Rochester community who helped out:

"We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Rochester Police and Fire Departments and the good Samaritans who helped rescue our children Sam and Selah yesterday after their stroller rolled into the Eric Canal. It is a miracle that the right people were there at the right time and the children are alive today because if it. Both Sam and Selah are special needs kids, which makes this tragic accident even more heartbreaking for us. Sam is doing well, but we ask everyone to pray for Selah, whose condition is grave. Selah is the newest member of our family, being recently adopted, but we love her like our own and pray it's God's will for her to pull through.

"Although we call Florida home, we have traveled to Rochester many times over the last five years so that Sam could be treated by Dr. Aquavella at Strong Memorial Hospital. We are so very grateful for the care Sam has received, and for the support of the Ronald McDonald House which we call 'Home' when we are here in town. The outpouring of concern from the Rochester community had been a comfort to us and we want everyone to know that we feel blessed to have you all praying for our family."

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