OLYMPIA, Wash. – A woman heading to her stepfather's house was "beyond lost" when she and her 8-year-old son took one wrong turn after another through the backroads of Washington state and onto a private Puget Sound beach, authorities said Monday.
The minivan driven by Shantina Smiley was found partially submerged Sunday with its doors open. A wallet containing the 29-year-old's driver's license, some cash and credit cards was found in the van, but neither she nor her son was anywhere in sight.
"Apparently she got stuck and abandoned the car," said Lt. Chris Mealy of the Thurston County Sheriff's Office. There was no indication that a crime took place inside the 2005 Dodge Caravan, he added.
Divers searched the water off the beach on Monday while bloodhounds on loan to the sheriff's office scoured the nearby roadside.
Detectives have traced Smiley's path from her home in Silverdale to the far reaches of Thurston County, more than 50 miles north of her stepfather's house in Castle Rock in Cowlitz County and far from any road that would have led her there.
Mealy said Smiley had called her fiance Saturday night in Olympia to update him on her location because she had left her cell phone at home. An employee at an Olympia diner where she bought a corn dog told investigators she left without her purchase and then tripped and fell walking back to her van, but Mealy said the fall was not serious.
The elderly couple who lived nearby said they let Smiley use their phone to call her grandfather, gave her son a piece of pizza, and then directed her back to the freeway. She wasn't heard from again.
"The homeowners said she acted nervous because she was lost," Mealy said. She was not injured but spoke of an accident, which investigators believe may have been a reference to falling down at the diner.
Mealy said that as she left the home, Smiley made another series of driving errors that eventually led her to a hard-to-find dirt path and driving onto the beach.
"It gets dark up there. It gets really, really dark," Mealy said. "I was there Sunday afternoon. I had trouble finding that trail in the daylight."
Friends and family described Smiley as a responsible, mature, rational woman. She has no history of substance abuse, Mealy said.
Her fiance, Robb Simmons, and Smiley's stepfather began searching for Smiley and her son, Azriel Carver, after she didn't arrive at their planned meeting spot Saturday. Azriel is a second-grader at Vinland Elementary in the North Kitsap School District, according to school principal Charley McCabe.
"I have no idea of why she would have ended up down that road," Simmons wrote on his Web site.
Mealy said Smiley has "no friends or relatives or lovers or boyfriends in Olympia or Thurston County."
"Somebody somewhere knows something," Mealy said. "She could be missing voluntarily. Something untoward could have happened to her. She could have done something untoward to her son. We have no clue."