HERMISTON — The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office is investigating what led to the deaths of two people Saturday while boating on the Columbia River.
Divers Monday evening recovered the bodies of Janice Arsenault, 44, of Umatilla, and Trenton Williams, 20, from Idaho, in the river near Bobby’s Beach, a small site along Highway 730 north about 10 miles east of Umatilla. Sheriff Terry Rowan said with the recovery complete, the focus can shift to finding out what happened.
According to the initial reports from the sheriff’s office, Arsenault and Williams fell off a boat. The driver of the boat, Richard Kirkendall, 41, of Hermiston, reported the pair were riding on the dive step of the boat and he noticed they were missing when he arrived on shore. Rowan said the case presents plenty of questions, including whether alcohol or other drugs played a role, which will be a matter for Dr. Rudy Stefancik, the county medical examiner. Rowan also said Williams did not pop up on local police databases, and the investigation will look into why he was here as well as the relationships between the three.
“We should be able to get to more answers today and possibly tomorrow,” Rowan said.
He also expressed his admiration to members of the Umatilla Rural Fire Protection District, which lost one of is own with Arsenault’s death. She was a volunteer firefighter for the local department.
“That was pretty humbling to watch them standing at attention on the dock waiting for the boats to come in, and then the procession from Hat Rock to Burns (the mortuary in Hermiston),” Rowan said.
The fire district posted this message about Arsenault on its Facebook page:
“It is difficult to write this through the tears and heartache, as we continue to process this sudden and tragic loss for us all. Janice’s positive outlook on life, contagious laugh, and her desire to live life to its fullest will be missed. We are glad that she was part of our family too.
“Words alone cannot express the appreciation and gratitude we have to all of those individuals and groups who stepped forward to help up our agency, our family, in our efforts to bring home our sister. You stood steadfast by our side in our greatest moment of need. Thank you.
“May we all find solace in knowing that Janice is in a better place and will forever be watching over us.”
On Tuesday afternoon an impromptu memorial started as people began leaving flowers and other items outside the Umatilla fire station.
Arsenault was a student and employee at Blue Mountain Community College. Jacelyn Keys, director of BMCC’s Hermiston Center, was Arsenault’s supervisor. She recalled Arsenault as a dynamic and outgoing personalty.
One of Arsenault’s joys outside studying was riding her Harley Davidson motorcycle. She recently returned from a rally with family and friends, Keys said, but Arsenault did not let blood lines draw the boundaries of who she called family.
“I don’t know if that woman actually knew a stranger,” Keys said.
Arsenault’s definition of relaxing left folks in the dust. She earned her GED at the college, took classes to become a volunteer firefighter and this spring earned her national EMT credentials. She also worked full time as an office assistant and was a mother of four.
“Janice did everything big,” Keys said. “She loved big. She laughed big.”
But something small from her friend was really sticking with Keys.
Keys said she is not a morning person. While she arrived at work at 8 a.m., she would be content not to engage with anyone until 10. Arsenault told her she needed to hear Key’s tell her, “Good morning.” Arsenault pushed for her work day to begin on a positive note. Keys said over time she gave in.
“I think the last two mornings,” Keys said, “I miss that the most.”