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Death of teen on I-5 haunts witness

Boy who jumped from overpass had been a ward of the state since 1998

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LYNNWOOD -- The 14-year-old boy who jumped to his death from a freeway overpass Friday afternoon had 20 minutes earlier run away from the Lynnwood-area group home where the state sent him to live weeks before.
His public death, which played out in front of shocked witnesses and stalled traffic on I-5 for hours, haunted many people Monday.
Among them was Darrel Aardahl, 65, of Mill Creek. He was driving eastbound on the overpass Friday afternoon, saw the commotion, stopped his truck, and made eye contact with the boy.
"He looked right at me, and then he went," Aardahl said.
The boy had been a ward of the state since 1998. On Jan. 7, he was sent to live in a licensed group home outside of Lynnwood, said Sherry Hill, a spokeswoman for the Children's Administration, which is part of the state Department of Social and Health Services.
People at the group home discovered the boy missing about 1:45 p.m. Friday and called police, Hill said. The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office received a report that a teenage boy was missing from a home in the 20500 block of 28th Avenue W., sheriff's spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said.
That's roughly one mile, and a 20-minute walk, from where the boy died. He appears to have intentionally jumped from the overpass onto I-5 around 2:06 p.m., said Trooper Keith Leary with the Washington State Patrol. The boy was struck by a van driven by a Marysville man and died at the scene.
The boy had been a ward of the state since he was a toddler. He was a dependent of a Yakama tribal child welfare agency, Hill said. The Children's Administration had worked with the welfare agency and tribal courts to provide services to the boy.
The Department of Social and Health Services will conduct a fatality review, Hill said. Results of those investigations become public upon completion and often take months to do.
"All we know is he died in our care, and we don't know what the cause of death is," she said.
The group home where the boy was staying has been put under a stop-placement order, Hill said. That means no new children can be placed there until an internal investigation is completed.
That is standard protocol anytime a child in state care is seriously injured or killed, she said. The department plans to meet soon to evaluate what happened at the home. They also will determine "whether the appropriate actions took place," she said.
That is a separate investigation from the fatality review.
Hill declined to identify the facility where the boy had been staying, citing state privacy laws. She said the home specializes in behavior rehabilitation, but she couldn't discuss why the boy was in that particular kind of home.
A group home called Cypress House is located on the same block where the runaway was reported Friday. Calls to the home and its parent company went unreturned Monday.
The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed the boy's identity and worked Monday to notify his tribe.
The boy in 2009 faced legal trouble in Benton and Yakima counties, court records show. Both cases involved assaults. He was still under active court supervision.
The boy had not yet started school here, said DJ Jakala, a spokeswoman with the Edmonds School District, which includes the Lynnwood area.
Troopers also are investigating what happened. At least one witness saw the boy on the wrong side of the overpass railing, Leary said. Some witnesses told police that people tried to grab him as he went over. Those accounts have not been confirmed.
Aardahl on Monday said witnessing the death remains "a pain in the heart."
He does vehicle maintenance work for Edmonds schools. He was headed to the gym after work when he came upon the scene.
"There was one young man there trying to keep him from going off," he said. "It took me a couple seconds to realize what was going on. When I realized what was happening, I stopped completely in the middle of the bridge."
Aardahl said he watched, helpless, as the boy fell to his death.
One of Aardahl's coworkers also witnessed the scene and called 911.
"I guess what I'm thinking, this young man was 14. He looked so angelic, just a beautiful face," Aardahl said. "How could he do this? What would have happened that cost him his life?"
Reporter Eric Stevick contributed to this story.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449;
Story tags » LynnwoodPoliceI-5

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