Neshoba County Sheriff Tommy Waddell said the victims appear to have drowned after their Dodge Durango left a county road 20 miles southeast of Philadelphia just after midnight Saturday.
Waddell identified the five deceased children as 9-year-old Dasyanna John, 8-year-old Duane John, 7-year-old Bobby John, 4-year-old Quinton John, and 18-month-old Kekaimeas John. Family friend Diane Chickaway, 37, also died. The sheriff said all were members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and lived in the Pearl River community east of Philadelphia. The tribe operates a large casino complex in the area.
The father of the children, Dewayne John, escaped the vehicle and remains hospitalized for hypothermia and water inhalation. The children's mother, Deanna Jim, and Chickaway's husband, Dale Chickaway, also survived. The group was traveling to Conehatta, another Choctaw community, with Dewayne John driving. Waddell said he has been tested to see if he was under the influence of alcohol, though he said official results aren't in. If officials decide to file charges, Waddell said they probably won't act until Wednesday.
It appears none of the nine occupants of the vehicle were wearing seat belts or were in child restraints, the sheriff said.
The crash happened on County Road 107, in a rural area near the Neshoba-Newton county line. The area has received heavy rains in recent days, raising the water level of what Waddell described as a normally small creek. The SUV ran off the left side of the road into the creek near the Kitchner community.
The sheriff said it wasn't raining and there was no ice on the road. "This accident is not weather related at all," he said.
Waddell said it took several hours for divers from the Philadelphia fire department to find the submerged vehicle and pull it from the water. He said the bodies have been sent to Jackson for autopsies. The Mississippi Highway Patrol will reconstruct the accident starting Sunday to learn more.
"It's always sad to hear of the death of a tribal member, but today our tribe experienced a great tragedy with the loss of six beautiful Choctaw souls. I cannot begin to imagine what the friends, relatives and loved ones are feeling," Tribal Chief Phyliss J. Anderson said in a statement.
Tribal spokeswoman Misty Dreifuss said funeral arrangements would likely be made Sunday. She said the children are expected to be buried together. Dreifuss said word of the deaths spread quickly through the 10,000-member tribe and that members "definitely have been hit pretty hard."
Waddell said that he can't recall a deadlier accident in the county in his 26 years of law enforcement.