PORT ANGELES — A former Air Force special forces instructor whose burned body was found April 1 at the wheel of his car in a remote area of Neah Bay died from toxic smoke inhalation and extensive burns, according to information from a death certificate.
Clallam County Coroner-Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols released the certificate Tuesday on the death of 22-year-old Vaughn Alexander Richardson.
County Sheriff Bill Benedict said Wednesday his department’s investigation into Richardson’s death is inactive pending any new information.
He said the Sheriff’s Office was investigating Richardson’s time in Clallam County before his death.
“It is a tragic suicide,” Benedict said.
Richardson’s mother, Vera Richardson of Seattle, said Thursday she has hired a private investigator to look even further into her son’s demise.
“I’m still in shock over this,” she said.
Benedict said the FBI has been investigating Richardson’s activities outside Clallam County in the period leading up to April 1.
FBI spokeswoman Amy Dietrich deferred queries to the Sheriff’s Office, which she said is the lead agency for the investigation.
“I’m leaving it an open, inactive case pending the FBI coming back and say, ‘We’ve got nothing more,’ then we will close it,” Benedict said.
Benedict said he learned from the FBI that Richardson, a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist instructor, was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane before his recent honorable discharge after testing positive for marijuana.
Vera Richardson confirmed that he had been honorably discharged after testing for marijuana.
Richardson had made calls to friends on the East Coast that indicated he was distressed following his departure from the military, Benedict said.
Benedict said the FBI also has a videotape from a Tacoma gas station showing Richardson buying diesel fuel for his car and pouring gasoline into a gas can.
The gas station also produced receipts that show Richardson made the purchases, Benedict said.
“My understanding is that the FBI reached out to colleagues and to others, Benedict said.
“My guess is that they essentially developed some kind of profile of the young man and it was determined he was somewhat troubled. That’s the most logical conclusion there is.”
Vera Richardson said she hired private investigator Gary Odegard of Kenmore to look into her son’s death “with fresh eyes.”
She said her son was anything but despondent when she spoke with him March 29, three days before he died.
“He was fine, happy, upbeat as usual,” she said. “He had a routine of working out and eating health food and doing artwork and writing, the usual.”
Her son was planning his life after the military, she said.
“He was looking forward to doing more artwork,” she said.
She said he had been to the North Olympic Peninsula only twice, visiting Hurricane Ridge both times.
She said she did not know if he was familiar with the Neah Bay area through his SERE activities.
SERE training has taken place south of Neah Bay along the Washington coast.
“I would just like to find anyone who knows anything about this, anyone who saw my 22-year-old or the Audi A7 he was driving on or about March 31-April 1, 2017, to please contact private investigator Gary Odegard,” Richardson said.
Vaughn Richardson was about 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds.
He had reddish-blond hair and was driving a dark-blue four-door 2014 A7 Audi.
Odegard can be reached at 206-948-9001.
“We are just trying to find out why a young man with this kind of accomplishment would go to somewhere he has never been before and commit an act like this that wasn’t part of his nature,” Odegard said Wednesday.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].