Crime

Woman sentenced for stolen school bus chase through Blaine

Elizabeth Jane Ray, 54, in court on May 4, 2015, after leading police on a chase in a school bus stolen from Snohomish County. The chase ended at a Blaine park where Ray crashed the bus, ran outside and tried to swim to Canada.
Elizabeth Jane Ray, 54, in court on May 4, 2015, after leading police on a chase in a school bus stolen from Snohomish County. The chase ended at a Blaine park where Ray crashed the bus, ran outside and tried to swim to Canada. The Bellingham Herald

An Everett woman must spend a year in prison for leading police on a chase in a stolen school bus, crashing in a Blaine marina park and trying to swim across the border to Canada, a Whatcom County judge ruled Thursday, June 25.

On the afternoon of May 1, a short yellow bus, No. 71, went missing from a Stanwood-Camano School District bus barn in Snohomish County.

Two hours later, someone spotted the bus weaving north on Interstate 5 near Ferndale. The bus stopped at a gas station at Second and D streets in Blaine.

Blaine Police Officer Tim Richardson saw and tried to stop the bus. The driver, identified as Elizabeth Jane Ray, 54, made eye contact with Richardson as she steered toward his cruiser. The bus bumped into the cruiser, came within inches of the officer, and fled west toward the dead-end Marine Drive. The bus crashed onto a log that served as a parking lot barrier, and dragged it until the bus stopped, high-centered on the log, in the grass of Blaine’s Marine Park.

Ray ran from the bus and started swimming for Canada, a few hundred yards of shallow tideland to the north. Police caught up to her in a harbor master’s boat and tried for about 20 minutes to get her to surrender. Officers eventually jumped in the water to bring her aboard.

Prosecutors charged Ray — at first identified by the fake name Elizabeth J. Winter — with assault in the second degree on a police officer, two other felonies and misdemeanor hit and run. She pleaded guilty to reduced charges of third-degree assault, possession of a stolen vehicle and attempting to elude police.

Her public defender, Maialisa Vanyo, said the events of that day were “frankly a terrifying experience” for Ray, and that she felt sorry for what she did.

“She is especially remorseful with her actions towards the officer, for which she wanted to make an apology,” Vanyo said. “It would be difficult for her to express herself today, so she asked that I express that for her.”

No explanation was offered in court as to how or why Ray ended up driving the stolen bus.

Until a recent arrest Ray worked as a beautician. Then in June 2013, she broke into her elderly mother’s home in Marysville, assaulted her with Mace and a wooden drawer, and took valuables from the house, according to Snohomish County Superior Court records. She was convicted of assault in the second degree and, in a victim impact statement, her mother wrote that Ray suffered from mental problems throughout her adulthood. A court-ordered mental health report recounted a history of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other possibly undiagnosed mental issues.

On Thursday morning in Whatcom County Superior Court, Judge Deborra Garrett asked if Ray wanted to say anything before she was sentenced. Ray cleared her throat but shook her head no.

Garrett ordered her to serve one year and one day behind bars, just above the standard range of 9 to 12 months. The extra day means she’ll serve her time in a state prison, where she’ll be offered better mental health services than she would in a county jail, said Deputy Prosecutor Nathan Deen.

No charges are expected to be filed in Snohomish County.

As part of her sentence Ray must pay $81,100 for the property damage she caused that afternoon.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Dispatcher blog at bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher-blog and follow him on Twitter at @bhamcaleb.

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