UMATILLA — Carbon monoxide may have played a role in the June drowning deaths of Janice Arsenault and Trenton Williams.
The information came from the affidavit Umatilla County sheriff’s Sgt. Rowen Hayes wrote June 26 to obtain a warrant to search for evidence of criminally negligent homicide.
Arsenault, 44, and Williams, 20, went missing June 15 while boating with friends in Lake Wallula on the Columbia River in the area of Bobby’s Beach.
They were on a 21-foot-long blue 2007 Skiers Choice with three other adults, according to the affidavit, and witnesses reported the two were intoxicated. They were chest down on the dive deck at the back when the craft headed to shore. After arriving, the party discovered Arsenault and Williams were not on the boat. A dive team recovered their remains June 17.
Two days later, a witness came forward and told investigators with the sheriff’s office the story he read in the news about their deaths did not match what he saw the day they went missing. The sheriff’s office at the time reported Richard Kirkendall, 41, of Hermiston, drove the boat. But according to the affidavit, Kirkendall was not the only driver.
The witness claimed he stopped in his boat that day to talk with the people in the Skiers Choice. He said he noticed the two people hanging off the dive deck. The affidavit also stated the witness said the boat’s owner — not Kirkendall — was driving.
Deputy Jon Roberts asked the witness if he was sure about who had the helm. The witness said he was positive, according to the document. He said he knew the owner of the boat and did not recognize the other man, referring to Kirkendall.
The East Oregonian is declining to identify the owner at this time because there have been no arrests or charges in the case.
The boat pulled away with Arsenault and Williams on the dive deck, the witness said, and after the owner cut power to coast to the beach, he thought “he saw someone that was struggling to stay above the water,” but it was too far away and saw it only for a split second.
He said he dismissed the image because children were floating on rafts and playing about 30 feet from the same place.
The sheriff’s office questioned three others who reported the boat’s owner was driving, according to the affidavit, and two of them said Kirkendall only stepped in to take the wheel once law enforcement arrived.
The affidavit also revealed Dr. Rudy Stefancik, the county medical examiner, reported high levels of carbon monoxide were likely a contributing factor in the drowning deaths.
The sheriff’s office — at last report — was waiting on the Oregon State Police crime lab’s analysis of blood samples from the victims. Sheriff Terry Rowan did not immediately return a call seeking comment for this report.