By AnneClaire Stapleton
(CNN) — When their SUV plunged off the side of a desolate California highway and landed 200 feet into a ravine, the little girl knew she had to do something to help her father who lay unconscious in the driver’s seat of the overturned vehicle.
The girl, all of 9 years old, freed herself and crawled out of the window of the wrecked Ford Escape.
She smelled gasoline and turned off the engine.
And then she started walking, in pitch black darkness, through steep and forbidding terrain.
“She walked quite a distance in a very, very threatening environment,” California Highway Patrol Sgt. Tom Lackey told CNN affiliate KABC. “It’s very black out here, very dark. It’s very steep and it’s brushy and there’s also coyotes in the background.”
The wreck took place about 1 a.m. Sunday on Sierra Highway in Acton, an unincorporated rural area in Los Angeles County.
Police told CNN the SUV careened off the road and rolled over several times before coming to rest upside down.
The girl noticed a light about 1,000 feet away and walked over to the home.
No one answered the door, police said.
So, she walked back to the mangled SUV to check on her father.
Then, police said, she hiked 200 feet up the embankment to the highway.
Her goal: to make it to the nearest lit area, a commuter rail station about a mile away.
There, she flagged a passing motorist, who called police.
But by the time officers reached the SUV, it was too late.
The father, 35-year-old Alejandro Renteria, had died of his injuries.
“They were really close. And that hurts me the most,” Amber Mejia, the girl’s sister, told CNN affiliate KCAL.
The pair was returning from a friend’s house when the father failed to make a steep curve on the road, the girl told police. Police suspect alcohol played a role.
The girl, who suffered minor bruises, will remain under observation at a hospital until Tuesday.
Relatives said she was faring well, considering the circumstances.