A woman on lifetime probation for throwing her two young sons off the Pasco side of the cable bridge in 1979 is back in custody for refusing to take her mental health medication.
Tanya Adams, 61, was found in February living in squalid conditions. Clothes and trash were strewn around her Westport home and all over the yard. She had neglected her personal hygiene, according to a state Department of Corrections report.
Adams told family members and her community corrections officer that she didn’t need to take her prescriptions, and reportedly was so irrational and unstable that she had to be involuntarily committed. She recently had been diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder with psychosis and manic disorder, the report said.
Now a Franklin County judge must decide if the convicted killer — who never served a day in prison for the crime — deserves a recommended two-month sentence for the violations.
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A hearing is scheduled April 7 in Franklin County Superior Court. She is held in the Franklin County jail on $2,500 bail.
Adams was 24, living in Pasco, an unemployed waitress and a devout Mormon when her marriage fell apart and she slipped into depression, according to Herald archives.
She was too proud to take welfare after her husband, John, left, but her car barely ran, the hot water tank in her mobile home didn’t work and the mortgage payment was overdue.
Adams believed she and her husband were evil and was afraid that would pass on to their children, or that the estranged couple’s unforgivable sins would condemn the boys to hell.
She thought her only option was to kill Ryan, 2 1/2, and Christopher, 1 1/2, so they could be guaranteed a place in heaven, archives said.
Adams drove around the Tri-Cities on Feb. 4, 1979, trying to come up with a painless way to do it. She first packed the boys into a snowbank to freeze them to death, but changed her mind when one cried.
Then about 2:30 a.m. Feb. 5, she began to crisscross the cable bridge between Pasco and Kennewick. She finally stopped in the middle about 4 a.m.
She kissed the toddlers, bundled them in coats and hats to keep warm, and one at a time carried each son from the car and dropped him from the bridge.
The boys fell 40 feet to the 38-degree, ice-choked Columbia River.
Adams didn’t hear a cry out of either of them, only the “kerplunk when they hit the water,” according to Herald archives. She said she had planned to die with them, but didn’t have the nerve to jump.
Adams went to police about 10 hours later. Officers initially didn’t believe the story, but the details were too vivid to be ignored. Divers and helicopters began searching for the toddlers.
The story made national headlines and attracted the attention of a New Jersey grandmother, who claimed to have a unique and proven psychic ability to locate missing children. She gave tips about when and where the Adams boys would be found.
On March 21, 1979, a Wallula Junction man followed the psychic’s clues and found Ryan’s body washed ashore near Sacajawea Park in Pasco. Christopher’s body was located 11 days later near Hat Rock Park in Oregon.
Jurors cried during trial
Adams, charged with two counts of first-degree murder, pleaded innocent by reason of insanity.
The much-publicized case was moved to Seattle for trial in October 1979. After a week of testimony, King County jurors rejected her plea and cried as they returned the guilty verdicts, according to Herald reports. Psychiatrists had said Adams knew it was illegal to kill her sons.
Jurors said they didn’t want to convict Adams, but felt they had no choice under Washington’s criminal insanity law. The jury foreman called the law an “abomination.” They also wrote letters to Franklin County Judge Al Yencopal asking that Adams be hospitalized and not imprisoned.
Adams was taken to Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake immediately after the trial was over, and in January 1980 was ordered to stay there for two more years as a condition of her deferred sentence.
Yencopal ignored the prosecution’s recommendation of life in prison to punish Adams for her actions. She would have been eligible for parole after 13 1/2 years, and then could have been transferred to a state mental hospital for treatment, prosecutors said at the time.
Yencopal had received a letter from officials at the Washington women’s prison saying they didn’t want Adams at their facility because they were not equipped to handle her problems, and that keeping her in isolation for 13 1/2 years would be cruel and inhumane treatment.
Yencopal said legislators needed to change the law and remove the requirement that a defendant not know the difference between right and wrong, or not understand they had committed a criminal act, in order to be acquitted on the basis of insanity.
In addition to the lifetime probation, Adams was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment for five years after her release from the hospital and do volunteer work at a nursing home for another six years.
It was the first time in state history that a person convicted of two counts of first-degree murder was given a sentence that did not include prison time.
‘Difficulty coping with life’
Adams got out of Eastern State in October 1982 under an assumed name so she could attend community college classes in Spokane. She later moved back to the coast, where she had grown up.
She never remarried or had other children, according to a 1992 Herald story.
Adams reportedly did well on supervision until 2007, when she went to a community corrections officer and said she “was having extreme difficulty coping with life,” had financial problems and did not want to return to her Shoreline home or her job. She entered the psychiatric unit at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center for several weeks.
The court reminded Adams in 2007 that a condition of her sentence was her compliance with mental health treatment, including taking prescribed medications.
Then between Jan. 26 and Feb. 17 of this year, Community Corrections Officer John Lyles got numerous phone calls from Adams’ relatives saying her behavior had become increasingly erratic over a couple of weeks. They felt she was a risk to herself and her vulnerable 88-year-old mother.
Family stopped by the home Feb. 14 and reported her mental status and living conditions to Lyles.
Lyles — based in the department’s Montesano office — and a police officer checked on her three days later.
Adams reportedly was outside with her skirt on backwards and trash covering her bare feet. Her speech was irrational. Inside her trailer, Lyles and the officer reported a strong odor of urine and mold.
Adams said she was taking her medications, but showed Lyles empty pill bottles.
Paramedics, called to take Adams to the emergency room, told Lyles “her living conditions were not acceptable for human habitation.” She was involuntarily committed to a hospital for a mental health evaluation until she could moved to a psychiatric ward, Lyles’ report said.
Lyles wrote the court that his department has tried several interventions in the past few months.
After she was committed Feb. 17, Adams’ mental health continued to decline. She couldn’t clean herself, slept poorly, didn’t respect personal boundaries with others and dug through garbage, the report said.
Lyles recommended the court issue a warrant so Adams could be arrested and transferred to the Franklin County jail to address the violations. He said the court should sanction her with a two-month jail sentence, and not release Adams until she is no longer considered a threat to herself or others.
Authorities booked Adams into the Franklin County jail March 24, and the next day was appointed defense attorney Craig Stilwill.