All five children from a Chewelah family were killed Tuesday afternoon when two pickup trucks collided head-on in a crash that emergency responders described as “brutal” and “horrific.”
Their father, Jeffrey Schrock, 38, was taken by helicopter to Sacred Heart Medical Center where he was listed in critical condition. The driver of the other pickup, Deer Park resident Clifford Helm, 55, also was taken to Sacred Heart, where he was undergoing surgery Tuesday night and was expected to live.
The crash, on U.S. Highway 395 just north of Hatch Road, was the deadliest in Spokane County in recent memory.
“This may go down as the worst crash,” said Washington State Patrol Trooper Jeff Sevigney. “Nobody could remember one, at least in this area, in recent times that’s been this bad.”
The victims – brothers and sisters between the ages of 2 and 12 – were traveling to Spokane with their father. A fellow member of Chewelah’s tight-knit Mennonite community said they expected to meet their pregnant mother, Carolyn Schrock, who was already in Spokane, shopping.
Helms’ northbound pickup crossed the median around 4:20 p.m. and collided head-on with the Schrocks, leaving their truck a heap of metal barely recognizable as an upside-down vehicle.
The victims were Carmen Joy Schrock, 12; Jana Louise Schrock, 10; Corina Jean Schrock, 8; Jerrill Burdiette Schrock, 5; and Creig Allen Schrock, 2. There were no other passengers in either vehicle.
The Schrocks and two other Mennonite families moved from Tangent, Ore., to strengthen the Chewelah religious community, The Spokesman-Review reported in 1997. Jeff and Carolyn Schrock opened North Country Furniture.
“He has a shop there at his house where he makes furniture – tables and chairs and things like that,” Ralph Hooley said Tuesday night.
Hooley and the Schrocks are part of a Mennonite community that includes about 12 families. The Schrock children attended a church school with a total of just eight students.
“They were nice children, they were doing the normal children things,” Hooley said. “The girls were interested in housework and they were good students in school. The boys were doing normal boy things, like riding bikes.”
One of the girls, Carmen Schrock, was in the news in 1998 when she was attacked by a cougar. She suffered a fractured skull and required more than 100 stitches.
Motorists who stopped at Tuesday’s collision seemed to be in shock at the sight, said Caleb Gilbert, who stopped soon after the crash.
“There were about 30 people all standing around with their jaws touching the ground,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said he checked the pickup and saw three bodies, two with no pulses and a girl who was conscious but struggling to breathe. He pulled a body off of her, but she soon died, Gilbert said.
The crash’s impact was so great that it shook the windows of surrounding homes.
“I thought it was like an earthquake,” said Jayme Marquardt, who lives nearby.
State Patrol Lt. Steve Turcott said the early investigation had not shown why Helms’ pickup drifted over the median. He received head lacerations in the crash. Alcohol did not appear to be a factor, Turcott said.
The children likely were riding in the truck’s extended cab, which had a back seat, Sevigney said. It was unclear if they were wearing seat belts.
Turcott asked that anyone who witnessed the crash call WSP at 456-4101.
A State Patrol team from Western Washington will conduct an in-depth analysis of the collision, Turcott said.
“We’re going to spare no expense in conducting an investigation,” Turcott said.
When Spokane Fire District 4 firefighters arrived, there was one confirmed death, said district 4 Deputy Chief Dave Phillips. The count quickly escalated.
The department will set up a debriefing session for emergency workers at the scene with mental health professionals.
“This will be one that will impact them,” Phillips said. “It goes right to your heart.”
Hooley said other members of his faith will help the children’s family and friends cope with the loss.
“Often in a situation like this there’s help from other Mennonite communities states away that will come in and help with food,” he said. “There will be cards and phone calls from other communities assuring them of their prayers.”