Identity of last Oso mudslide victim confirmed

  • Wed Jul 23rd, 2014 10:26am
  • News

By Eric Stevick Herald Writer

UPDATE: Molly Kristine “Kris” Regelbrugge has been removed from the list of people missing in the Oso landslide and added to the list of 43 confirmed victims, county officials said Wednesday morning.

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office has confirmed Regelbrugge was the person found at the slide site on Tuesday, sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.

“At this time, there are no person unaccounted for following the March 22 landslide,” she said.

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OSO — Searchers believe they have found Kristine “Kris” Regelbrugge, the final missing victim of the March 22 Oso mudslide.

Regelbrugge was among 43 people buried in the slide. She was 44.

Persistence, with a little luck, paid off.

Clues led searchers to the rubble of Regelbrugge’s garage, buried under about 18 feet of debris, Sheriff Ty Trenary said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

“She was much deeper… than we expected her to be,” Trenary said.

Although forensic confirmation by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner is necessary, sheriff’s officials are confident it was Regelbrugge they found about 8 a.m. Tuesday.

“Four months ago, I never imagined we would be where we are today,” Trenary said.

The Oso slide is the deadliest in U.S. history. It buried a square-mile area of the valley under a deep blanket of mud, clay, trees and flood waters.

In the days afterwards, Trenary’s deputies consulted with sheriff’s offices in counties in Colorado where widespread flooding last fall resulted in multiple deaths. Several of the bodies in that disaster were never found.

“Here in Snohomish County, we had to prepare ourselves for a similar fate,” Trenary said.

Gov. Jay Inslee said the work done to find all of those who died in the mudslide was extraordinary.

“This is hopefully going to bring some relief to the family,” he said. “It’s one of those things you can’t consider a blessing; you might consider a balm.”

Sara Regelbrugge, one of the couple’s daughters, said Tuesday that the family is reserving comment until more details are known. The family doesn’t want to get its hopes up until there is medical confirmation, she said.

Navy Cmdr. John Regelbrugge III, 49, also died in the slide. His body was found by two brothers and two sons in March.

The couple were at their home on Steelhead Drive when the slide hit. They were the parents of five grown children.

John Regelbrugge was the officer in charge of the Everett maintenance detachment of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. He was two years from retirement.

He served 32 years in the Navy, including 13 overseas deployments, the last in 2013.

Snohomish County sheriff’s search and rescue personnel, working with others, made Tuesday’s discovery on the west side of the slide, south of Highway 530. The woman’s body was about 100 yards from where John Regelbrugge was recovered.

Personal items believed to belong to the Regelbrugge family recently found in the area became a trail of clues.

Trenary had particular praise for Sgt. Danny Wikstrom and deputy Glen Bergstrom, who lives in Oso. The pair have worked search-and-rescue in the county for years, and were involved in the mudslide response from the outset.

“I’m humbled and honored that we are able return Kris to her family,” Trenary said. “I’m also extremely grateful to the communities of Oso, Darrington and Arlington who stood beside us these past four months in our efforts to recover all of the missing victims.”

Search-and-rescue crews used evidence-based techniques often employed by police in missing persons cases to aid them in their search. The knowledge, support and pressure from the community pushed searchers to not give up.

It has been two months since the 42nd mudslide victim was recovered. Steven Hadaway, 53, of Darrington was found May 22. The morning of the mudslide he’d been installing a satellite dish on the roof of Amanda Lennick’s Steelhead Haven house. She also perished.

His brother, John Hadaway, cried when he learned that the sheriff’s office was confident it had found Kris Regelbrugge.

“It’s a very emotional day. It’s tears of joy,” Hadaway said. “On the other hand, it’s just so, so sad.”

Hadaway spent time in the debris fields searching for his brother. He knew the odds were against finding everyone, but also felt that the community would “never, never, never” give up.

“Finding one person is a miracle, but 43 out of 43, I don’t think there are words in the dictionary for that.”

Each of the victims identified so far died from multiple blunt force injuries, according to medical examiner reports.

For more than a month after the slide, up to 1,000 searchers crawled over the site, looking for victims. The active search was suspended in late April, but spotters have stood watch, first as crews with heavy equipment excavated Highway 530 and, lately, as the debris piles are broken down.

Since April, the sheriff’s office quietly deployed people back to the slide area on more than a half-dozen occasions. Their mission was to follow up on what were considered promising clues about Regelbrugge’s location, often suggested by locals.

Searchers last week found items belonging to the couple and focused their efforts in that area.

The Regelbrugges are survived by two daughters, Sara and Shante; three sons, Kyle, Scott and Brian; and two grandchildren.

“It is a testament to the persistence of the sheriff’s office that today, four months after the slide, we recovered the final victim,” said Snohomish County Executive John Lovick. “The sheriff’s search and rescue teams are true professionals. I am honored and humbled by their dedication and commitment to this community.”

Meanwhile, a special county-state panel will soon begin examining circumstances preceding the landslide and the emergency response when the hill gave way.

Inslee and Lovick had been expected to launch the commission Tuesday but the announcement was postponed.

“There are a few last-minute pieces that had to be worked out,” said Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for the governor. “People have a lot of questions and (we) want to try to answer those before we announce.”

Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.