Near-death experience leads to lifelong friendship between girl and Franklin County deputy

A story from Jan. 4, 1966, updates the condition of Jacqueline Graves, the 3-year-old girl dropped from a Pasco bridge.
A story from Jan. 4, 1966, updates the condition of Jacqueline Graves, the 3-year-old girl dropped from a Pasco bridge. Tri-City Herald file

Covered by the dark of night, a deranged Ethel Graves walked out toward the middle of the Snake River bridge with murder on her mind.

The freezing river flowed almost 70 feet below. Ethel neared the railing with her 3-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, who was bundled in a winter coat.

It’s not quite clear what brought Ethel to the bridge on that cold January night in 1966. Some blame mental illness, while others say she was angry and broken over a recent divorce from her husband.

What is not debated is that Ethel, then 23, had every intention of killing her toddler when she dropped her over the side of the bridge near Burbank.

Jacqueline tumbled through the air and landed violently on the rocks and dirt below, not in the water like her mother intended. The fall knocked the little girl unconscious just feet from the river.

Ethel left Jacqueline beneath the bridge, certain her only child was dead, and headed to Pasco for a cup of coffee.

When she reached the Top Hat Cafe a short while later, Ethel sat down and matter-of-factly told a group of people what she had done. The group included Ethel’s sister, who quickly called police to the cafe.

Franklin County sheriff’s Deputy Bob Gore received a call just as he was preparing to sit down for dinner. The lawman raced to the scene, thinking he was going to recover the body of a child.

Gore didn’t know it at the time, but what he was about to discover would lead to a bond and friendship that is still strong to this day.

When Gore arrived at the bridge, he carried his large flashlight down to the railroad tracks and river, scanning the area for any sign of Jacqueline.

“When I got about two-thirds of the way down to the railroad tracks, which go under the bridge, I started to hear funny noises,” said Gore, who is now 95 and lives at a Kennewick retirement home. “There was moaning, groaning and like this gargling sound.”

Gore followed the noises and soon spotted Jacqueline’s bloodied body. She had fallen on her right side, suffering a major skull fracture, a badly broken arm and an eye injury.

He took off his heavy police jacket and gently covered the injured girl as he waited for backup and the ambulance to arrive, he said. The trained medic didn’t move Jacqueline despite the urging of another deputy sheriff who showed up on scene. The decision may have saved Jacqueline’s life.

Gore stared at Jacqueline in disbelief, wondering how any person could throw such an innocent child from a bridge, he said. Then, for reasons that are still unknown to him, he dropped down to his knees and said a prayer.

“I still remember what I said. I told God to take some of my strength and give it to this girl,” Gore said. “She needs it.”

The medics arrived and Jacqueline was taken to Kadlec Methodist Hospital, where doctors gave her a a 50-50 chance to survive. Meanwhile, police arrested Ethel and took her to jail.

Ethel was quickly taken to the state hospital in Medical Lake. She told police she threw Jacqueline off the bridge because she “was tired of the quarreling,” the Herald reported.

Jim Rabideau, the Franklin County prosecutor at the time, charged Ethel with first-degree assault.

“Lucky it wasn’t first-degree murder,” said Rabideau, who has long since retired. “I thought she was competent at the time she did it. She was quite mad at her husband at the time she did it.”

Jacqueline had several surgeries, including one to remove a blood clot in her brain, but surprised doctors when she eventually woke up, according to Herald reports. The fall left her body broken and caused vision to vanish in one eye, though she ultimately regained her sight.

While Jacqueline was recovering, Gore felt compelled to visit her at her father’s house in Pasco.

“The instant she spotted me she knew who I was,” Gore said.

Gore and Jacqueline quickly started to build a strong relationship with one another. He continued to check in on the girl, stopping by to play with her and get to know her family.

A few months after the fall, Ethel stood trial in Franklin County. A jury ultimately decided Ethel was innocent by reason of insanity. She was sent to the state hospital to be treated.

Rabideau’s neighbor was on the jury, and years later the prosecutor asked her why they didn’t convict Ethel.

“She told me, ‘we couldn’t imagine any mother throwing her child off a bridge if she wasn’t crazy,’ ” Rabideau said.

A few years after the incident, Jacqueline and her family moved to Canada, mostly to get away from Ethel, who had since been released from the hospital, Jacqueline said. The fall left the right side of her body damaged, but she didn’t have major complications during her younger years.

Even after the family moved, Gore continued to phone Jacqueline and even went to Canada for several moose hunts with her father. He is known in the family as “Uncle Bob,” and Jacqueline called his wife “Aunt Angie.”

The two still stay in contact today, calling each other every now and then to check in and talk about life.

“Thank God my parents didn’t push him aside when we moved to Canada,” said Jacqueline, now 53 and living in Alberta.

It wasn’t until 1979, when Jacqueline was 16, that she saw her mother again while in the Tri-Cities for a family wedding, she said. She walked into a cousin’s house in Pasco and Ethel was there to greet her.

Surprisingly, Jacqueline didn’t harbor much anger toward her mother and the two talked about the past, Jacqueline said. The conversation sparked a new mother-daughter relationship that would last until Ethel died in 2012.

“Other family couldn’t understand how I could have a relationship with the woman who tried to kill me,” said Jacqueline, who is married and raised a daughter. “I didn’t see it like that. In my mind she wasn’t well and she didn’t know what else to do.”

It wasn’t until a few years before Ethel’s death that Jacqueline started to feel anger toward her mother, she said. The fall causes Jacqueline to endure horrible migraines that sometimes require hospitalization, pain along the right side of her body and other complications.

She told the Herald she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The effects from the fall have left Jacqueline unable to work or continue her love of teaching piano, she said. The pain and complications have worsened during the past decade.

“There are years where I’ve spent three quarters of it in bed,” she said. “That’s not living.”

During all of Jacqueline’s struggles, Gore has been a constant source of strength in her life, she said. Sometimes she will try to hide her problems from him on the phone, but he will quickly catch on and the two will end up working things out together.

“Uncle Bob said he thinks the reason why we are so connected is because of the prayer he said that evening when he found me and fell to his knees,” Jacqueline said. “We both believe there is a part of him in me. There is. Even if you just want to call it love.”

Gore said words cannot explain the connection he has with Jacqueline. He can still recall nearly every detail of the day he found her and the impact seeing her lying near the river had on his life.

The image, Gore said, will never leave his mind, just like the relationship with Jacqueline will never fade away.

“We have a lot of love for one another,” he said.

Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556;; Twitter: @Ty_richardson