A couple who cared for a 91-yearold Spokane Valley woman in failing health returned from a weekend out of town Sunday to find the woman dead in her home and her temporary caregiver dead in the garage.
Helen A. Ferguson was found lying on the living room floor. Lynn VanDebrake, 33, was found sitting in the driver’s seat of a car in the garage.
The home at 14604 E. 24th smelled of automobile exhaust. The house and the garage are connected.
Sheriff’s Lt. David Wiyrick said it is conceivable that carbon monoxide from the garage seeped into the home, killing Ferguson. But he didn’t rule out other possibilities.
Two dogs - a black Labrador and a smaller dog - were found alive in a back room of the home.
The Sheriff’s Department was called at 5:06 p.m., and deputies still were investigating the deaths late Sunday.
VanDebrake had cared for Ferguson when her live-in caregivers had gone on vacation in the past, Wiyrick said. The two caregivers, who carried the dogs from the house as they cried, were not named and declined to comment.
VanDebrake and Ferguson last were seen together at 6 p.m. Friday when Ferguson’s caregivers had left for the weekend.
“It’s kind of a tragic ending,” said Jim Hollingsworth, who built a home behind Ferguson’s in 1985. “This is a shocking way for her to go. We’re thankful that it was painless and peaceful. And we’ll miss her.”
Ferguson’s health started to fail when her husband of 45 years died on Oct. 31, 1992. John Ferguson, 87, died of cancer.
Together, the Fergusons had owned 20 acres surrounding their home, which had been built in 1952. They raised racehorses. Over the years, they sold off parcels to people such as the Hollingsworths, who built homes there.
“We bought our property from her husband,” said Lloy Spackman, who lives two houses west of Ferguson’s. “This area used to be known as Ferguson Development.”
Helen Ferguson had her own ties to the area. Her grandfather had built the first home on the east side of Liberty Lake. McKenzie Bay was named after him.
Helen Ferguson grew up in Colfax, Wash., and graduated from the University of Washington. She traveled in Europe for a year after graduating and continued to travel most of her life. Her closest blood relatives live in England and Portugal, although a stepdaughter lives in Walla Walla.
Ferguson met and married her husband in her mid-40s.
“They were really a wonderful, happy couple,” said neighbor Patty Hollingsworth. “We were real good friends. They were like grandparents for our children.”
Before she became ill, Ferguson had liked to garden. She was a well-read woman who also loved animals, Patty Hollingsworth said.
“She was just a very kind, sweet, gentle woman,” Patty Hollingsworth said. “She didn’t have a mean bone in her body.”