Savannah Martin, age 7
Girl, 7, who drowned in Lawton had struggled to overcome autism
A girl who drowned in a Lawton pond struggled with autism but had learned to talk. She was also trying to learn to swim. Her 2-year-old brother was rescued from the pond and has been released from a hospital.
BY ROBERT MEDLEY firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: February 23, 2011
LAWTON — Doctors once said Savannah Martin would never talk, but she defied the early diagnosis and started to speak. Then she learned to read. She even tried to learn to swim.
But on Sunday, Savannah, 7, who was autistic, slipped away from her home in Lawton and headed for a chilly pond nearby. Her brother, Tommy Martin, 2, who was wearing a bicycle helmet, may have followed her to the pond, said the children's' aunt, Ruth Sanchez, 35.
Savannah was found face down in the pond, which was about 50 yards from her home. Her brother was floating upright next to her, buoyed by the Styrofoam in his helmet.
“We can't believe this little angel is gone,” Sanchez said.
The children's mother, Beth Martin, 31, swam into the pond but was unable to pull her daughter out of the water. A neighbor, Hector Figueroa, 45, swam in and pulled both children to the bank.
It was too late to save Savannah, despite her mother's efforts to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Lawton firefighters also tried CPR, but Savannah was pronounced dead at Southwestern Medical Center.
Tommy Martin has been released from OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City, where he was treated for hypothermia, a hospital spokesman said Tuesday.
Lawton police Capt. Craig Akard said he doesn't know how long the children were in the water. He said officers are still interviewing witnesses and he couldn't comment on the investigation.
Beth Martin had recently separated from her husband, Thomas Martin, who is in the Oklahoma National Guard, and had been looking for a new place to live because of concerns about the pond, said Sanchez, who is Beth Martin's sister.
Beth Martin wanted to get a house with an alarm system because Savannah had recently figured out how to unlock doors, Sanchez said.
Savannah was diagnosed as autistic when she was 2, Sanchez said. Her mother worked to get her daughter to speak. But Savannah had not quite gotten the hang of swimming.
“She loved the water and playing in the bathtub and swimming. Water was a big draw to her, just the movement of it and the shimmering of the water in the sun outside,” she said.
A family friend, Juliet Burk, of Tahlequah, said Beth Martin worked doggedly with her daughter, even traveling to therapists in upstate New York.
She said Savannah started to say a few words and short sentences by the time she was 5.
In a Feb. 8 Facebook post, Beth Martin wrote: “Savannah looked at me straight in the eyes and said, ‘Give me a hug!' And ran into my arms. Can never thank those in her life that have helped get her to this point enough. Your work is never unnoticed or forgotten.”
Sanchez said her niece was on track to be mainstreamed into a first-grade class at Cache Elementary School. Once a week, Sanchez drove Savannah to the ACI Learning Center in Edmond, a therapy school for autistic children.
“Savannah had made tremendous strides,” Sanchez said. “She'd come home and give us hugs and kisses.”
Savannah loved Disney princesses and fairies and her favorite singer was Taylor Swift. Her brother Tommy was her “cohort,” who would go everywhere with her, Sanchez said.
About 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Beth Martin couldn't find the children in the house and ran to the pond, but didn't see them at first, Sanchez said. Then their older brother, Tristen, 11, went to the pond and heard them screaming.
Beth Martin climbed a barbed-wire fence to get to the pond, but was not strong enough to get her daughter to the bank, Sanchez said.
Martin went into shock at the hospital and has not been able to talk about her daughter's death, Sanchez said.
“Beth had told me she was planning to spend the rest of her life taking care of Savannah so she could give her the best life she could,” Sanchez said.