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A 14-year-old girl was behind the wheel of an SUV that plunged into a South Texas port basin, killing her mother, three siblings and a man, authorities say.

The girl was the sole survivor of Thursday's accident and was released from a Brownsville hospital shortly after being rescued from the water Thursday. Family members said the 14-year-old, Debbie Alvarez, was behind the wheel for the first time ever when the crash occurred.

"She was going to park, but instead of pressing the brake, she stepped on the gas pedal," Jessica Alvarez, sister to one of the victims, told Action 4 News. "I'm not sure what they were thinking. She doesn't know how to drive; it was her first time behind the wheel."

The accident happened in an area of the port known as Shrimp Basin, where shrimping boats dock.

Port of Brownsville police Chief Carlos Garcia said the girl told him that her mother and siblings were in the car. "It was just the basic information. She was in shock when I talked to her," Garcia said.

Divers worked Thursday afternoon to recover the SUV, a Mercury Mountaineer. The vehicle had to be hoisted up from the water with cranes.

Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio identified those killed in the accident as 29-year-old Juana Edith Alvarez; her children, 10-year-old Jesse Lee Alvarez, 7-year-old Emily R. Espino and 4-year-old Joe Alvarez; and 56-year-old shrimp boat captain Juan Pablo Morales. Lucio said the family appeared to be on its way to drop off Morales at his job on a shrimping boat.

The story spotlights the dangers of allowing teens to drive with inadequate training. Teens as young as 14 are allowed to drive in several states. Graduated driver licensing (or GDLs) are the most effective step states can take to cutting back on fatalities. Adopted by almost every state in the U.S., graduated licenses put caps on the hours teens can drive, how many other passengers they can have in a car, and insist they do 30 to 50 hours of practice before moving on to an unrestricted license.

A report by the Brownsville Herald said the victims' bodies were found in the back of the SUV, where they were possibly trying to escape the car as it flooded.

Escaping a submerged car can be tricky, especially because it is easy to panic. Experts recommend staying calm, because that will slow down your breathing. Keep your seat belt on until the very last moment, because the seat belt keeps you anchored to the car and gives you more leverage to try to open the door or smash the window. Your best option is to have some sort of device on hand that will break the window, so you can escape through the window and swim to safety.

But if you don't have a window punch, your best chance for survival is to open the door as soon as you hit the water. If you can't do that, roll down the window as quickly as possibly.

Take a look at this video from our friends at AutoBlog, who recently practiced escaping from a submerged car:



AOL Autos staff contributed to this report.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 495 Comments
      • 1 Year Ago
      Geez. That girl lost her entire family in a single moment. She is going to be guilt ridden and broken for a long time. My prayers go out to her.
      Ethel
      • 1 Year Ago
      And what is a 14 year old doing behind the wheel of a car?
      mooreracing1
      • 1 Year Ago
      Still doesn't mention as to why a 14 yr. old girl was behind the wheel to begin with !! She's not old enough for a permit, so why was she behind the wheel?? How Stupid and careless.
        gramargo
        • 1 Year Ago
        @mooreracing1
        Her aunt said that the girl told her she'd kept asking her mother to let her drive, and mother finally gave in. The mother should have known better, especially with other children in the car.
        sue1mar3
        • 1 Year Ago
        @mooreracing1
        Other than girl driving, the people who have the answer are dead.
      cindi
      • 1 Year Ago
      I can't imagine even in Texas that the legal age to drive is 14!! In most states you get a permit at age 16 and need to take some kind of drivers ed classes in order to get your licence at age 17...
        unikorns60
        • 1 Year Ago
        @cindi
        Reply to Jake Zackery.... .Your comment on Darwinism was hilarious, I'd say your darwinism was more like absurdism, aventism, alpinism ,anarchism, aneurysm, anglicism, animism, aphorism, Arabism, archaism....lol
        chaparita0728
        • 1 Year Ago
        @cindi
        In Texas you can get a "hardship license" at 14. It sounds like it was justified because the stupid 29 year old mother obviously had no brains.
          sugarcreekchile
          • 1 Year Ago
          @chaparita0728
          A hardship license is granted to Texas residents ages 15 to 18 years old who complete an approved driver training course and provide proof of the need to drive. A 14-year-old can apply for permission to take the driver's training course early but, if approved, he will only be allowed to take the classroom segment.
      sjehanian
      • 1 Year Ago
      Who allows a 14 year old to drive a vehicle loaded with passengers. She had no experience behind a wheel, and certainly not an SUV. One stupid mistake on someone's part killed so many innocent people.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Hate, no respect for human life, and drugs have taken OVER the USA now thats sad...God Bless America
        Ann
        • 1 Year Ago
        I didn't read anything in the article about drugs or hate. It was an accident caused by the poor judgement of the mother. Comments should be relevant to the article.
      SHORTY
      • 1 Year Ago
      ANOTHER REASO TEENS SHOULD BE RIDING BICYCLES AND NOT BE ALLOWED TO DRIVE CARS ESPECIALLY AT THE AGE OF 14. CRIMINAL CHARGES SHOULD BE FILED.
      Velocity105
      • 1 Year Ago
      I always wondered why people just simply didn't roll down the window when a car goes in the water. You're not fighting the pressure holding the door shut but it does let water in faster. The article says "remain calm." Okay so you need to meditate while your car sinks. Got that.
        rjackson2a
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Velocity105
        Can you say electric windows. Water and electric motors don't play well together.
          xraybrain
          • 1 Year Ago
          @rjackson2a
          I never liked electric windows. I am old school, i guess. If I ever special order a car, I don't care what it is but it has to have roll down mechanical windows. I wonder if you can even get that option anymore? Anyone know?
          wllharrington
          • 1 Year Ago
          @rjackson2a
          If you can keep calm(which is difficult when you are panicking),, you generally will have some time to use the electric windows but you must put the window down at least enough to let the water in so that you can open the door.
          kabube
          • 1 Year Ago
          @rjackson2a
          In addition if there was airbag deployment, the passengers may have been stunned.
        itsmegp46
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Velocity105
        Nearly all cars today have power windows. If the electric current is interupted such as falling into water, the power lifts won't work.
      gail
      • 1 Year Ago
      just when you think you've heard it all.
      msega17341
      • 1 Year Ago
      Sadly, today's teens seem cocky and deadly behind the wheel.
      beebalm3
      • 1 Year Ago
      not a wise decision letting her drive where she was..inexperience was a huge factor in this tragedy..I hope they watch and take care of this young girl..she's going to feel guilty for the rest of her life..the adults in her life need to get her counseling as soon as possible..my thoughts and prayers to all
      • 1 Year Ago
      Experts recommend staying calm? Yeh okay..
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