SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Divers on Thursday found both the driver and the vehicle that rolled off the Wheatland Ferry boat ramp and into the Willamette River the previous evening.
The driver of the GMC Terrain is deceased and was the only person inside. Authorities identified the woman inside as 56-year-old Jeanie Sandall.
It’s still unclear what led to the incident.
Multiple agencies responded to the ferry at 1150 Matheny Road just north of Keizer on Wednesday after the vehicle went off the ferry ramp and into the water just after 4 p.m.
Sgt. Jeremy Landers said the driver passed a line of cars waiting for the ferry and plunged into the water. Witnesses said the driver was a woman.
LifeFlight responded to assist and Keizer police officers used a drone to scan the area. Landers said four boat crews were in the water. But all of their efforts were unsuccessful and the search was suspended at dusk.
Desiree Jones told KOIN 6 News that Sandall was her childhood best friend as they were both growing up in Sheridan. She said her friend would have been driving home from work in Keizer when she went into the water.
Jones said the news came as a shock.
“I just screamed, I was in shock. It doesn’t seem like it’s real but it is,” she said.
She speculated about what could have led up to her friend’s death, firmly ruling out the possibility of suicide.
“It could have been medical or a malfunction of the vehicle, otherwise it would have never been intentional, never,” Jones said. “It’s just very shocking to me but, as far as purposely doing this, no — not in her character whatsoever, whatsoever.”
Jones remembered Sandall fondly, saying that the woman “was always supportive of me.”
“She’s a good person — kindhearted. And that’s how I’ll always remember her, as a very special person,” she said.
KOIN 6 News reached out to Sandall’s family but they were not up for an interview. The woman’s niece, Beth Reed, posted the following on social media:
“My family wholeheartedly believes, due to her medical history, that she suffered a health crisis while driving which cause(d) her to suffer an episode of confusion and disorientation which caused this horrible accident… She is very well-loved and will be missed terribly by her family and many members of the community.”
Jones said she spoke to Sandall’s mother who told her the victim had been complaining about not feeling well the night before the incident and thought she was coming down with the flu.
During Thursday’s search, crews found two other vehicles in the water. But they’ve been there quite a while and authorities do not plan to remove them at this time because of their “challenging location” in the Willamette River.
Both of those vehicles were unoccupied.
The Willamette River Boat Launch on Matheny Road will remain closed for the extent of the recovery but the Wheatland Ferry is expected to continue running normally.