PORT ANGELES — Federal, state and local investigators continued to sift through debris Sunday where the bodies of a mother and three young children were found after a fire destroyed two mobile homes at the Welcome Inn RV Park.
Deputy Chief Jason Viada of the Port Angeles Police Department said that though forensics have not confirmed the identities of those bodies, police are “reasonably certain” they belonged to Valerie Kambeitz, 34, Lilly Kambeitz, 9, Emma Kambeitz, 6, and Jayden Kambeitz, 5, who have not been seen since the fire.
Valerie Kambeitz’ husband, Matthew Timothy Wetherington, 34, remained in the Clallam County jail, booked for investigation of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson. He will appear in Clallam County Superior Court at 1 p.m. Monday.
A certificate of marriage filed with the state says Wetherington and Valerie Kambeitz married May 4.
Wetherington was seen running from the trailer at the Welcome Inn RV Park as it erupted into flames at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Viada said.
Crews from the Port Angeles Fire Department arrived to a fully involved fire and extinguished it after it had destroyed two trailers and multiple vehicles.
Police arrested Wetherington at his camp at Lincoln Park on Saturday night and are continuing to look through evidence there as well.
“There’s a ton of work to be done still and it’s going to be a tedious crime scene to process,” Viada said.
Viada, who has been with the Port Angeles Police Department for 25 years, said he could not recall any other homicide that involved the deaths of four people. He said it isn’t yet known whether the deaths happened before the fire started.
The deaths of Valerie, Lilly, Emma and Jayden Kambeitz come less than a year after the December shooting deaths of Darrell Iverson, Jordan Iverson and Tiffany May in Clallam County and the January slaying of Valerie Claplanhoo in Sequim. No arrests have been made in Claplanhoo’s death.
Viada said Wetherington has a long criminal record, including convictions for first-degree child molestation, unlawful imprisonment, second-degree assault, first-degree attempted robbery and first-degree burglary with sexual motivation.
The fire left a complex scene for investigators to sift through and he credits the agency’s “really good detectives” with finding and arresting Wetherington.
“We had to move quickly to develop probable cause to locate and arrest a very dangerous person and get him removed from the community before something else happened,” Viada said.
Vigil planned for Monday
Family friend Holly Wright said that a vigil for Valerie, Lilly, Emma and Jayden Kambeitz is set for 5 p.m. Monday at the Port Angeles City Pier.
She said family members are “devastated” and “hanging on by a thread.”
“Valerie was a very loving and outgoing woman,” Wright said. “Her children were her world.”
First Baptist Church in Port Angeles, where surviving family members attend, is collecting money to help the Kambeitz family deal with expenses related to the deaths, Wright said.
Neighbor Larry Soffa, who lives two trailers away from the blaze, was still rattled Sunday as investigators continued to look through the scene.
“I’m 62 and I ain’t never been so scared or upset in my life,” Soffa said. “Three children in that trailer and their mother. It’s horrifying. I could cry right now it’s so bad.”
He only woke up from his sleep after two women kicked down his door, which was locked, and alerted him that his neighbors’ homes were on fire. They were running around the park waking people as the trailers burned.
When he got his wheelchair to his ramp to exit his trailer, he saw flames climbing 30 to 40 feet up a tree as debris and embers landed on his lot.
“You ought to have seen the hunks of that black stuff going into my tree,” he said. “I thought my tree was going to go up and my trailer was next.”
He said he is thankful for the investigators who are working on the case.
“I don’t know how these people do these investigations,” Soffa said. “I wouldn’t want to be involved in the recovery of something like that. They are all doing the best job they can with what they got to work with.”
Investigators from the Port Angeles Police Department, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Port Angeles Fire Department, Bremerton Fire Department, Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Sequim Police Department and Washington State Patrol Crime Scene Response Team continued their search for evidence at 8 a.m. Sunday morning.
ATF spokesperson Jason Chudy said Sunday that the agency sent special agents and a certified fire investigator to help with the investigation and process the scene.
“We’re here to support our state and local partners when a tragedy like this happens in the community,” Chudy said. “We’re more than willing to help out.”
They used heavy machinery to remove the metal roof from the debris. Their vehicles and trailers obstructed most views of what they were doing.
Viada said investigators will look for the cause of the fire, but by Sunday morning they had not yet found an accelerant.
“They are collecting facts in an effort to determine if there was an accelerant used, and if so, what it was,” he said.
Even without any initial discovery of an accelerant, Viada said it still appears clear it was arson.
“One of the biggest indicators of arson is a sudden eruption and rapid spreading of fire,” he said. “The evidence from the scene is going to be examined at a lab before I can confirm much more about arson. My lack of specific details shows how early we are in the investigation.”
The Sheriff’s Office is providing support in processing evidence and the Bremerton Fire Department and ATF are helping process the fire scene.
Anyone with information about this case is asked to call 360-452-4545 and ask to leave information about this case with a detective.
Donations can be made at firstbaptistpa.org. Select the option to “give” and use the drop-down menu to direct gifts to the “Fellowship Fund.” In the “notes” section you can write the name “Kambeitz.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].