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Special needs child from Zephyrhills on life support after plunge into Erie Canal

A father from Zephyrhills pushed the double stroller along the path, taking a quiet walk with two of his special needs children. He let go of the handle for just a moment to glance at the time on his phone.

It was only a second.

But that's all the time it took Wednesday morning for the stroller and the two disabled 8-year-olds strapped inside to roll down a 10-foot embankment and plunge into the Erie Canal.

Their father, Jon T. Clanton, jumped into the cold water.

The 48-year-old Zephyrhills pastor fought the cold current that grabbed his children, Sam and Selah, and pulled them along a watery path lined with flat concrete.

"He couldn't get the kids unhooked but was able to pull them up some and evidently got Sam's head up," his wife, Yvonne Clanton, wrote in her blog that usually chronicles her everyday life as the mother of four disabled children.

Some passers-by jumped in and helped rescuers pull the trio from the water.

Sam escaped without serious injury. Someone performed CPR on Selah, who was taken to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y., where she remained on life support Thursday night.

What began as a happy trip for surgery to improve another sibling's eyesight turned into a vigil for another whom Mrs. Clanton said "was not expected to live."

"She is on life support ... But they still give us no real hope and even if she should live, they feel she won't be 'Selah' anymore," she wrote at

The family adopted Selah, who celebrated her eighth birthday this week, along with another girl, Sarah, fairly recently, say those who know them. The girls had been living in a mental institution for adults in the Ukraine. Sarah, 5, is visually impaired, and Selah has a range of developmental issues. A few years earlier the Clantons had adopted a boy, Shad, from China after having two biological sons, Steve and Sam. Sam was born with a rare genetic condition marked by eye abnormalities, short stature and developmental delays.

"We want to be their parents to take care of them and bring them happiness," Mrs. Clanton wrote of the girls. "We can't wait to get them started in therapy and possibly have some eye operations to see if they can be given some sight. These two, so like our precious little boy , deserve more than lying in a bed until they die! They are God's creation."

The family declined requests for interviews but issued a statement Thursday thanking the Rochester police and fire departments, the good Samaritans who helped with the canal rescue and residents in the community, which they have visited frequently during the past five years because Sam has received treatment for his visual impairments at that hospital.

"It is a miracle that the right people were there at the right time and the children are alive today because if it," they wrote. "Sam is doing well, but we ask everyone to pray for Selah, whose condition is grave. Selah is the newest member of our family, being recently adopted, but we love her like our own and pray it's God's will for her to pull through."

Terry Raburn, district superintendent for the Assemblies of God denomination that includes Clanton's Grace Church of Zephyrhills, said "a dark cloud" hung over the campus of Southeastern University in Lakeland as officials learned about the tragedy. Southeastern is Mrs. Clanton's alma mater and affiliated with the Assemblies of God.

"We are just heartbroken about this," said Raburn, who described the Clantons as "examples of Christian responsibility both inside their family and in the community."

He said the Clantons had traveled to hospitals all over the nation in an effort to get treatment for their children.

"That just proves their love and compassion," he said.

Times staff writer Bridget Hall Grumet contributed to this report.

Special needs child from Zephyrhills on life support after plunge into Erie Canal 08/16/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 16, 2012 11:20pm]
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