By Ian Ferguson
A woman rammed a stolen school bus into a Blaine police cruiser, crashed the bus on Marine Drive and tried to swim away from police officers towards Canada, according to witnesses and police.
Sheriffs in Snohomish County reported a small, yellow school bus was stolen from the Stanwood-Camano Island school district’s bus garage at approximately 1:45 p.m. on May 1 with no students onboard. The bus was seen driving north on I-5 near Portal Way in Ferndale at 3:45 p.m., and Blaine police were alerted to watch for the vehicle. A police officer spotted the vehicle about 15 minutes later in Blaine at a gas station on D Street. When the officer tried to contact the woman, she rammed the bus into the officer’s patrol vehicle and sped away, said Blaine police chief Mike Haslip. Officers pursued the bus to Marine Drive, a dead-end road surrounded by water.
Blaine resident Katherine McCall was driving west on Marine Drive when the bus passed her 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 ran from the bus towards Semiahmoo Bay, plunged into the water and began swimming north towards Canada.
McCall said the woman was repeatedly yelling, “God will save me!” as she ran to the water.
The boundary between American and Canadian waters lies about 700 yards north of where the woman entered the water. It was high tide, and the water was about 5 feet deep where the woman was swimming. A weather station at nearby Cherry Point recorded the water temperature at the time as 54 degrees Fahrenheit.
With the assistance of Blaine harbormaster Andy Peterson, 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.
“There was concern she might become hypothermic – that water is very cold,” Haslip said.
After several minutes of trying to convince the woman to come aboard, two officers went into the chest-deep water and brought her onto the boat. They took her 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 was taken by ambulance to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham to be treated for hypothermia. She was booked into Whatcom County Jail on charges of possession of a stolen vehicle, attempting to elude a police vehicle and assault. The name given in the booking report is
Elizabeth Winters, but officers haven’t been able to confirm if that is
her real name.
The woman is not a Stanwood-Camano Island school district employee, according to the school district.
No details about a possible motive or method for the vehicle theft have been released.