RAYMOND — Jennyfer Hernandez-Sarich, a respected, and fun-loving Raymond High School senior, was killed in a March 26 collision with another Pacific County driver.
The collision occurred near milepost 68 on Highway 101, about one mile north of the Pacific County/Grays Harbor County line, according to Washington State Patrol.
Hernandez-Sarich, 18, was driving south in her red 1992 Toyota Tercel at about 8:40 p.m. on Sunday night. Jose Arteaga Morales, 32, of South Bend, was driving northbound in a white 1996 Nissan pickup, when he crossed over the centerline, and hit Hernandez-Sarich head-on in the southbound lane.
Hernandez-Sarich was pronounced dead at the scene, WSP spokesman Trooper Russ Winger said on March 27. Officers from Raymond Police Department notified her family.
Hernandez-Sarich’s mother, Sarah Sarich, announced her daughter’s death in a Monday morning Facebook post that read in part, “I was told it was instantaneous. We are in shock and heartbroken.”
Investigation in progress
Winger said that while the incident is still under investigation, WSP does not believe either driver had been using alcohol or drugs. They are still trying to determine why Arteaga Morales crossed the centerline.
Arteaga Morales and his passenger, Manuel Morales Bucio, 26, of Raymond, both sustained unspecified injuries, and were taken by ambulance to Grays Harbor Community Hospital. Morales Bucio had serious injuries, and was subsequently airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. According to a Harborview spokeswoman, Morales Bucio was in “serious” condition in the trauma intensive care unit on Monday afternoon.
Both men were wearing seatbelts. Investigators are still trying to determine whether Hernandez-Sarich was using a seatbelt, but she was not ejected from her car, Winger said.
Raymond Fire and Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office also responded to the collision. Both vehicles were towed from the scene. Both lanes of Highway 101 were closed for several hours, while WSP conducted a fatal collision investigation, so southbound drivers had to return to Aberdeen, and detour around the wreck on SR 105. WSP cleared the scene at around 1 a.m. on March 27, Winger said.
“It’s a tough day here,” Raymond High School Principal David Vetter said on Monday afternoon. He said the school held classes as usual, because maintaining a sense of stability and normalcy helps grieving students and staff cope when tragedy strikes. But the school counselor and grief counselors were available all day, offering help to anyone in need.
“The way to handle something like is this is to be factual and, obviously, be supportive and nurturing,” Vetter said. “We are the constant in many of these kids’ lives, and for them to feel safe, they need the consistency.”
Speaking with the blessing of the Sarich family, an emotional Vetter described a bright, strong young woman who thrived, despite growing up in difficult circumstances.
“I have not ever seen her without a smile on her face,” Vetter said. “No obstacle is an obstacle. She always found a way through or around things.”
For much of her life, Hernandez-Sarich lived in foster care, where, Vetter said, she was “an extremely effective foster sister to others.”
Hernandez-Sarich came to Raymond Junior-Senior High School as a sophomore in October 2014. Then, about a year ago, a Raymond couple, Sarah and Alan Sarich adopted her.
“She found a family that loved her, and that she loved. It had a real positive effect on the family itself, and that is something she brought into the school,” Vetter said.
Role model with a silly streak
During her two and a half years at RJSHS, the spunky young woman found her niche, making numerous loyal friends, forming a relationship with another Raymond student, and becoming something of a role model for many middle and high school students.
She was perhaps best-known to school staff for her volunteer work with “BEST Club,” an Elks-sponsored after-school tutoring and mentorship program for middle and high school students. Tutoring became a passion for Hernandez-Sarich, who worked with kids on her own, and coordinated adult volunteers.
Vetter said kids in the program felt comfortable with her, and often sought her counsel.
“She was wise about knowing when it was time to bring in an expert, and when it was time to just be a friend,” Vetter said.
Hernandez-Sarich had “lofty goals,” including attending Whitman College, and school staff were helping her with planning for college and life after graduation. However, Vetter said, she definitely also had “an awfully impish, playful side,” and a gift for forming “a personal connection with anyone she met.”
During her senior year, she joined the wrestling team for the first time, quickly forming a bond with the two other female wrestlers.
“The three of them against the world — they loved that,” Vetter said.
Vetter will remember her most for her intuition and empathy.
“When she could tell I was having a stressful day, she’d be the first one to come up, put her arm around my shoulder, and tell me to breathe,” Vetter remembered. “She noticed people around her.”
This is a developing story. The Chinook Observer has reached out to the victim’s family through the police, school and mortuary, and will provide their comments and any updates if, and when they become available.