Man dies after crashing into canal near Visalia

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Zeke Montoya, according to family members, was a big man with an even bigger heart but he died after the car he was in careened into a canal. (KFSN)

Investigators are learning new information about a drowning in the South Valley after a car plunged into a canal Sunday night.

Zeke Montoya, according to family members, was a big man with an even bigger heart. The father of four loved swimming and having fun, but the 33-year-old ended up drowning after rescuers say he was whisked away after a crash into a cold canal.

"We deployed people downstream, and they found the person floating," Batt. Chief Mike Green with the Tulare County Fire Department said. "He was already one mile downstream in the canal, and we found him another mile down and finally got him out one mile down the stream. So, he traveled two miles."

California Highway Patrol officers got the call just after 10 p.m. Investigators believe the driver, whose identity remains unclear, failed to negotiate a left curve at Avenue 272 and Road 140.

Roads were wet when officers say the car went off the road near Visalia and onto a dirt shoulder before landing in the canal. All three people were wearing their seat belts when the car landed in the fast-moving water.

"I would imagine just unbuckling by yourself with the traumatic experience - that's tough using those fine motor skills," Steven Beal with the CHP said. "And then having the wherewithal to swim to safety, it's survival at that point."

Officers say Jeanine Jeter and Jennifer Rivera were able to swim to the side of the canal and climb out. Investigators believe Montoya was alive after the crash but drowned after being swept downstream.

Firefighters finally caught up with him near Mooney Grove Park.

Montoya's family members say Jeter came over to clear her name Monday morning, but not long after she showed up a shouting match prompted officers to respond to the scene. CHP investigators then interviewed her for a second time.

Although detectives say alcohol was involved, an official crash cause has not been determined.

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crashtulare countyVisalia
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