News

Final resting place isn’t

Angé Cooper of Clinton gets up each morning and walks out onto her beach near Possession Point. And she never is quite sure what she might find half-buried in the sand.

It might be a wayward boat, empty containers or a lost fishing pole.

But on Wednesday, Cooper found a heavy, black plastic box on the beach. It was sealed with packing tape.

When she figured out there was a cover, she opened the box and found a packing slip. She set it aside and lifted cotton away from inside the box and discovered a bag filled with something that appeared to be sand.

“Ooh, what did they pack in sand?” she asked herself.

That was when she discovered she was holding the ashes of Ernest Severson Jr., a 75-year-old man and former Vashon Island resident

who passed away in Edmonds in March 2007.

Cooper took the packaging slip to work with her and, after debating with herself about who to call, she called the police.

The Island County Coroner’s Office later took possession of the box, and authorities said the box had only been in the water about a week.

Cooper agreed.

“If the box had been in the water a long time, it would have had obvious signs of barnacles or seaweed slime. It looked like it had been in the water pretty recently,” Cooper said.

Deputy coroner Sarah Martin said the remains were likely dropped into the water from a ferry.

It’s unusual for items from a burial at sea to turn up on shore. Martin said it was the third time in 13 years that the county coroner could recall such an incident.

“These are rare kinds of cases,” Martin said.

Cooper’s beach sits near the southernmost tip of Whidbey Island and with the current going right by her beach, plus strong southern winds, debris gets pushed up onto the sand.

Cooper, who owns Possession Point Bait Company, guessed the remains had come from as far south as Edmonds.

“I think it was the Edmonds-Kingston ferry that the box was dropped from because of the southerly winds,” she said. “It would have easily made it here.”

Cooper said she wasn’t surprised at finding the box of remains because she has found all kinds of things that have washed ashore during her morning walks.

“It didn’t shock me,” she said. “I woke up one morning and found a whole boat resting on my beach.”

People can request memorial services on any ferry run, said Washington State Ferries spokeswoman Marta Coursey.

“It is a closely-monitored activity and folks are allowed to spread ashes from a certain part of the vessel, presuming certain conditions are available, such as a calm day on a non-peak sailing,” Coursey said.

The decision to allow someone to spread ashes rests with the captain of the vessel, Coursey said.

While the dumping of cremated remains is allowed on ferry runs, these types of memorials are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“It is the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act that has specific guidelines for what you have to do for a burial at sea,” said EPA spokesman Tony Brown. “There are specific locations where that is allowed. The bottom line is, for any type burial at sea, the material has to be biodegradable and cannot be something that floats up.”

The Island County Coroner’s Office has returned the remains to Severson’s family in Snohomish County, Martin said.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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