By Ian Ferguson
A woman is in custody after a police chase went from the streets of Blaine to the water of Semiahmoo Bay on May 1.
A school bus was reported stolen from the Stanwood-Camano Island School District’s bus garage at 1:45 p.m., according to sheriffs in Snohomish County. There were no students on the bus. The small yellow bus was seen driving north on I-5 near Portal Way in Ferndale and local police were notified. According to Blaine Police Chief Mike Haslip, a Blaine police officer subsequently spotted the vehicle at a service station on D Street in Blaine at approximately 3:45 and tried to make contact with the driver with the assistance of a U.S. Border Patrol officer .
The driver rammed the bus into a Blaine police vehicle before driving off. Officers pursued the bus to Marine Drive, a dead-end road surrounded by water.
Witnesses on Marine Drive reported the bus was traveling at a high rate of speed, with police not far behind. Blaine resident Katherine McCall was driving west on Marine Drive when she was passed by the bus going in the same direction.
“She passed me going about 60 miles per hour,” McCall said. “She was flying. My first thought was, ‘I hope there aren’t any kids on that bus.'”
Just west of the Lighthouse Point Water Reclamation Facility on Marine Drive the vehicle veered off the road and collided with a log barrier, lifting the front tires off the ground and immobilizing the bus. Witnesses say the woman then exited the vehicle running towards Semiahmoo Bay and plunged into the water and began swimming north towards the Canadian border.
McCall said the woman was repeatedly yelling, “God will save me!” as she ran to the water.
With the assistance of Port of Bellingham personnel, police officers commandeered a powerboat and met up with the woman who by that time was about 150 yards from shore. She continued swimming and ignored the officers’ attempts to get her into the boat.
“She was very reluctant to get into the boat,” Haslip said. “The officers had to talk to her for several minutes and there was concern she might become hypothermic. That water is very cold.”
After several minutes of trying to convince the woman to come aboard, two officers went into the water, which was shallow enough to stand up in, and brought the woman onboard. The boat was then taken to shore where Blaine police, Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies and North Whatcom Fire and Rescue personnel were waiting with a blanket and stretcher.
The woman showed symptoms of hypothermia. Haslip said after being treated the woman would be arrested for felony eluding police officers and assault on a police officer for ramming the patrol vehicle. The woman is believed to be in her 50s and is as yet unidentified. The woman is not a Stanwood-Camano Island School District bus driver, according to the school district. Authorities said they don’t know why or how the bus was stolen, or where the driver was heading. The incident is under investigation.
This story is developing and will be updated as more information becomes available.