Woman’s body exhumed in cold-case effort

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Remains of an unidentified woman buried in Cowlitz County were removed Wednesday, reigniting the investigation of a 23-year-old cold case.

In May 1991, the woman was a passenger in a tractor-trailer rig that collided into another rig on Interstate 5 near Kalama and burst into flames. The driver, who also died in the collision, was identified by the trucking company’s records. The woman, however, wasn’t in the records and wasn’t supposed to be in the vehicle, said Washington State Patrol Sgt. Jason Hicks.

“It was just somebody he found along the way,” Hicks said.

Although the fire destroyed any identification the woman may have had with her, investigators talked with a witness who saw her climb from the sleeper into the passenger seat just prior to the collision. They believe she was a Native American woman. Friends and family of the driver who died were interviewed, and they did not know who she was. For more than two decades, investigators have been trying to determine her identity.

The woman’s remains were carefully removed Wednesday from an unmarked grave at the Longview Memorial Park and Cemetery and sent to King County for facial reconstruction. Then, they’ll be sent to the University of Northern Texas for DNA extraction. The DNA will be entered into databases in hopes of finding a match or a relative.

Since 1991, DNA technology has come a long way, state patrol detective Sgt. Stacy Moate said.

The remains will be sent back to the Cowlitz County Coroner’s Office, where they will be kept until her family has been identified and can retrieve them.