A 16-year-old girl pulled out of an SUV submerged in China Creek after she lost control on Road 426 near Road 425B late Saturday night has died from her injuries, officials with the California Highway Patrol confirmed Sunday morning.
Family identified the girl as Shania Faith Costella, a standout player on Yosemite High School’s JV basketball team, near a memorial they set up Sunday on Road 426. A Gofundme account was established later that day to collect donations for her family, available at gofundme.com/shania-faith-costella-memorial.
Costella and her 17-year-old sister Sahvannah, both from Oakhurst, were traveling eastbound on Road 426 around 10:50 p.m. Jan. 7 when Costella lost control of the vehicle for unknown reasons, officer Paul Varner said. The cause of the crash remains under investigation, though drugs and alcohol were not suspected.
After she attempted to save her sister, Sahvannah managed to escape the wreck and ran down Road 426 towards Highway 41 screaming for help, witness Emily Burtnett said.
Burtnett, 23, was the first person to stop and dialed 911. Burtnett said Savannah told her the SUV had hydroplaned and toppled down an embankment, leaving her sister trapped inside as it sank into the creek.
“She just came down the street screaming,” Burtnett said. “When you have that adrenaline, you can do anything ... I don’t know. It’s awful.”
The vehicle was submerged as the creek’s waters slowly rose from a major storm impacting the state. Emergency responders from CHP, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, and Cal Fire quickly dove in the freezing waters to pull Costella from the vehicle, then lifted her up the hillside to medical staff.
Sahvannah suffered minor injuries, and both sisters were taken to Valley Children’s Hospital, where Costella was later pronounced deceased.
Friends and coaches of Costella, along with hundreds in the Mountain Area, have mourned the loss of a girl they said had a pure heart and a smile that lit up the room.
“Shania’s always been the person to put a smile on everyone’s face,” said Trinity Curtis, Costella’s friend and teammate on the Yosemite JV basketball team. “Without hesitation, she always told you how great of a friend you are. She was the one who was there for everyone ... Even through down days she was there for you, every time. We’re all really going to miss her.”
“Shania will be dearly missed, and never forgotten by her Badger teammates and coaches,” said James Anderson, Costella’s coach.
YHS Counselor Stephanie Samuels said school staff have been assisted by Cornerstone Counseling to help students cope with the loss of their friend.
“Shania was a beautiful young woman, inside and out,” Samuels said. “We at Yosemite are doing the best we can to support the family and friends in this terrible tragedy.”
“Shania was one of the sweetest girls you will ever meet,” said David Maynez, Yosemite High’s varsity softball coach and the school’s director of campus safety. “This young lady was doing all the right things. I had the pleasure to know her the last few years at YHS. I am so sorry to hear this. Praying for her sister who was with her. She is a sweet young lady as well. Please pray for them.”
A Facebook page, Shania Faith Costella Memorial, was set up to honor Costella by sharing pictures and memories of her. Click here to visit that page.
Costella’s cause of death has not been released. A memorial service had not yet been planned.
Editor’s note: Shania and Sahvannah were transported to Valley Children’s Hospital, not Community Regional Medical Center of Fresno as first reported. This story was updated Jan. 12 to include more details and quotes from those mourning Costella’s loss.