It’s been about two weeks since a 22-year-old woman drove off a cliff into the Spokane River and drowned, and her family and friends are still grappling with the freak accident. Some are still trying to fill in the blanks as why and how it happened.
Those gathered at the site of the crash for a vigil Wednesday night and remembered Rachel Bowles as a daughter, sister and friend, who loved playing sports and instruments.
On the night of Dec. 12, Bowles got off work at Ferarro’s Family Italian Restaurant. About an inch of snow covered the ground, and she got in her sedan to drive to a party, said her mother, Traci Bowles-Russell.
“It was stormy and dark and cold that night, and windy,” Bowles-Russell said.
“She had called a friend 10 minutes earlier saying she was lost,” Bowles-Russell said, and she was driving in a neighborhood south of the river at about 11:30 p.m.
She turned onto an unmarked private road with no Dead End sign and drove onto a 30-foot-long, snow-covered patch of grass.
Her car went off a steep ledge where the grass ended. It flew through the air over a fence post that was nearly parallel with the ground – a 4-foot gap between them. Spokane County Sheriff’s investigators told Bowles-Russell the car was going 20 or 30 mph, she said.
The car dropped about 30 feet, hit the Centennial Trail and came to rest upside down in the Spokane River.
Her cause of death was ruled as a drowning, and Bowles-Russell said investigators told her Rachel was unconscious from the crash and there was no sign of struggle from inside the car as it filled with water.
“None of us think that the pieces are put together correctly,” said Ashley Reitan, Rachel’s longtime friend. “We all have questions.”
Bowles-Russell said people have been asking questions about Rachel, if she was drinking or if she was sad, hinting at suicide, both of which her mother denied.
“She simply thought it was a road. It was a road with nothing at the end,” she said. “She was not speeding. She was not committing suicide.”
The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the crash, but many people have visited the spot next to Jim Simanton’s house. Toxicology reports are not yet processed.
“I’ve had a parade of people coming onto the property to look at what went on,” Simanton said.
Simanton remembers grabbing his newspaper about 7 a.m. and seeing the tracks in the snow that were left. It didn’t occur to him that a car had gone off the ledge, because the fence posts below it were still standing, he said.
Hours later, Simanton heard banging on his door and answered to find sheriff’s deputies with their hands on their pistols.
They asked if he knew about the crash. He replied “No,” and “then they quieted down,” he said.
The deputies then showed Simanton to the side of the house, and he saw the car in the water.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I’ve lived here for 31 years. This is the first time anything like this has happened. It’s a real mystery how fast she could have been going.”
When Simanton learned the identity of Bowles, he realized he had been served by her at Ferarro’s more than once and remembered her as a kind person.
Bowles-Russell said she’s concerned about the property’s safety and is trying to get boulders placed there to prevent another car from driving off the cliff.
The spot of grass, between the end of the private road and the dropoff to the Centennial Trail, is owned by the county, Simanton said. The Spokane County Assessor’s Office was not able to confirm that.
Bowles-Russell said investigators told her the land was private, but even so, she doesn’t blame Simanton for anything.
Reitan said she’s waiting for the Sheriff’s Office to finish the investigation to get more information on what occurred.
“We’re hoping a piece of information will come out that fills in some blanks,” she said.
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