PORT ANGELES — A Coast Guard helicopter was unsuccessful Monday in finding the body of missing Sequim resident Jeri Lyn Smith, 68, who authorities said jumped from the Elwha River Road bridge west of Port Angeles and into the Elwha River over the weekend.
“The helicopter didn’t locate her,” Brian King, Clallam County chief criminal deputy, said late Monday afternoon.
“We’re suspending our search pending any new information. We believe, based on the evidence we have now and her history, that she jumped off the bridge.”
About two dozen search and rescue personnel from the Sheriff’s Department, Clallam Fire Districts 2 and 3 and the Elwha Police Department scoured the Elwha River banks late Sunday and all day Monday for Smith’s body.
“Typically, bodies tend to surface after time,” King said. “We are confident that if she were in a place where she could be recovered today, she would have been recovered.”
The bridge stands 85 feet above the river.
The $19.7 million bridge, built on Elwha River Road in 2009, is unusual for the 14-foot-wide pedestrian path that hangs below the automobile deck.
Ron Smith, Jeri Smith’s husband, told authorities he noticed his wife was missing mid-day Sunday after he returned home from church.
Smith had worked for the chamber of commerce in Sequim.
“They are a fairly large family in Sequim with a lot of history in the Sequim Valley,” King said.
She had been hospitalized with depression, was suicidal “several times” in the past and on at least one occasion had talked about jumping from the span, King said.
Ron Smith had looked for her Sunday afternoon before he found her car parked in a small turnout on the west end of the bridge at about 6:20 p.m.
When authorities arrived, the vehicle was cool to the touch, King said.
Scent dogs tracked the woman’s scent to the center of the bridge Sunday evening, where evidence of her presence ended.
Personnel conducted a walking search of the river banks for several hours Sunday.
Search and rescue personnel set off downriver in kayaks Monday morning, stopping first at a large log jam.
The river was about 12 feet deep just below the bridge and running at about 2,500 cubic feet per second, which is about 1,000 cubic feet per second faster than normal, King said.
The woman’s death would be the first by suicide from the bridge since it was built.
It opened Sept. 25, 2009, replacing a century-old, one-lane span across the waterway.
The railing on the auto deck is 54 inches high.
Clallam County Engineer Ross Tyler said it had been 30 inches tall, sufficient according to construction standards to provide a crash barrier for vehicles.
The original car deck railings were supplemented to a taller height as a safety measure for bicyclists who were expected to use it instead of the bike-pedestrian span below it, which has railings 42 inches tall.
The standard for pedestrian railings is 42 inches, Tyler said.
That’s the height of the railings on the 100-foot-tall Eighth Street bridges, where three people jumped to their deaths from June 8 to Nov. 13, 2017, and where seven have died since the bridges were opened in February 2009.
The Port Angeles City Council has added construction of suicide barriers on the bridges to the city’s 2018-2023 capital facilities plan and will consider short- and long-term options at its next regular meeting Jan. 16.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].