District 3 firefighter-paramedic Kjel Skov searches the mouth of the Elwha River Monday morning, looking for a Sequim woman whose husband reported her missing Sunday evening. The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office reported its findings that Sequim resident Jeri Lyn Smith, 68, likely jumped from the Elwha River Road bridge west of Port Angeles over the weekend. Photo by Jay Cline

District 3 firefighter-paramedic Kjel Skov searches the mouth of the Elwha River Monday morning, looking for a Sequim woman whose husband reported her missing Sunday evening. The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office reported its findings that Sequim resident Jeri Lyn Smith, 68, likely jumped from the Elwha River Road bridge west of Port Angeles over the weekend. Photo by Jay Cline

Sequim woman believed to have jumped from Elwha River Bridge

Sequim business leaders and community members are in mourning this week after the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office reported its findings that Sequim resident Jeri Lyn Smith, 68, likely jumped from the Elwha River Road bridge west of Port Angeles over the weekend.

Search and rescue efforts on Jan. 7-8, including a Coast Guard helicopter on Monday flying over the area were unsuccessful in finding her body, said Brian King, Clallam County chief criminal deputy.

“We’re suspending our search pending any new information,” King said. “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 Office, 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.”

Smith, a retired employee of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, was honored at the group’s Tuesday afternoon meeting at Sunland Golf & Country Club with community members holding a moment of silence for her.

“We’ve lost a very important member of our community,” said the Chamber’s executive director Shelli Robb-Kahler.

“And she missed us so much that after she retired she came back and volunteered for us and filled in many roles and normally you would see her today at the luncheon, so we miss her dearly even though many of us have far more questions than answers right now …

“Our hearts are all breaking.”

Robb-Kahler told the audience that Smith had “a very deep and strong faith.”

“She was very diligent about that and I know she wouldn’t want us to mourn for too long and she would want us to celebrate her life and celebrate Jeri’s personal belief that she is now at peace and resting in a much better place,” Robb-Kahler said.

Missing

Ron Smith, Jeri Smith’s husband, told authorities he noticed his wife was missing mid-day Sunday after he returned home from church.

“They are a fairly large family in Sequim with a lot of history in the Sequim Valley,” King said.

Smith was named Grand Marshal of the 2009 Sequim Irrigation Festival.

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.

A scent dog tracked the woman’s scent from her car to the center of the bridge, where evidence of her presence ended.

Search and rescue personnel from the Sheriff’s Office and Clallam Fire District 3 searched the river banks near the bridge Sunday night and set off downriver in kayaks Monday morning, stopping first at a large log jam.

For now the search for Smith is suspended, but King said they’ll go back out if new information comes in and/or water levels change.

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.

“There’s a lot of traffic along the river that could see her too,” he said.

The $19.7 million Elwha River Bridge stands 85 feet above the river and was built on Elwha River Road in 2009. Its 14-foot-wide pedestrian path that hangs below the automobile deck is unusual compared to other bridges and Smith’s suspected 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 in Port Angeles, 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.

Paul Gottlieb is a Senior Staff Writer with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Leaders with the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, from left, past president Nell Clausen, Executive Director Shelli Robb-Kahler, Kevin Hoult, with the North Peninsula Small Business Development Council and Lisa Dudley bow their heads and close their eyes for a moment of silence for retired employee Jeri Smith on Jan. 9 at the Chamber luncheon. Sequim Gazette photo by Erin Hawkins

Leaders with the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, from left, past president Nell Clausen, Executive Director Shelli Robb-Kahler, Kevin Hoult, with the North Peninsula Small Business Development Council and Lisa Dudley bow their heads and close their eyes for a moment of silence for retired employee Jeri Smith on Jan. 9 at the Chamber luncheon. Sequim Gazette photo by Erin Hawkins

A search-and-rescue crew clamber over an Elwha River logjam Monday morning, looking for a Sequim woman whose husband reported her missing Sunday evening. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

A search-and-rescue crew clamber over an Elwha River logjam Monday morning, looking for a Sequim woman whose husband reported her missing Sunday evening. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

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