CLINTON — South Whidbey is beset with immeasurable shock and sadness over the tragic Christmas Day death of a precious 9-year-old girl in a freak accident Sunday.
Tobiah “Zippy” Leonard, a fourth-grader at South Whidbey Elementary School, died Sunday afternoon when a tree fell on her family’s Ford Explorer as the Langley family was on its way to a holiday gathering.
The loss has devastated many across the island.
“There is a pall in town,” said Gretchen Cole of Langley.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t see Tim and those girls,” Cole said Monday.
“Zippy always had a remarkable quality. She’s like an angel on earth. Whenever I saw that girl I could not take my eyes off her. She has just such a spirit — it was tangible.”
Zippy’s father, metal artist Tim Leonard, was also injured in the accident and underwent surgery at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He was airlifted to the hospital after the accident with possible head and neck injuries late Sunday, and a Harborview official said he remains in serious condition Monday.
Officials with the South Whidbey School District contacted the families of Zippy’s classmates Monday. Teachers and other school staff were also told of the death in phone calls that started Sunday night.
“It’s a tragic loss,” said Superintendent Jo Moccia. “We are all mourning at this point.”
“There are no words to express how horrific it is,” she said.
Zippy was a student in Pam Muncey’s class at South Whidbey Elementary School, and a special gathering for students and their parents of her classmates has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the school.
A separate meeting for Zippy’s former classmates in Susan Milan’s kindergarten/first-grade class and Kathy Stanley’s second-/third-grade class is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
A pair of counselors will be there for support as students grieve, write letters to the family and share memories.
“There are children at all levels that are impacted,” Moccia said.
Students from SWES are on winter break — classes resume Jan. 2 — but the school will be open tomorrow so counselors can be available to students and their families.
A link has been set up on the district’s website, at www.sw.wednet.edu/sw/site/default.asp, for resources about coping with grief and counseling referrals, including ways to contact the district’s six counselors.
Dayle Gray, one of the district’s counselors, is also offering individual and family support. She can be reached at 360-730-8158 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
News of the horrible accident spread late Sunday across the South End.
Facebook quickly filled with messages of grief and condolences for Zippy and concerns for Tim Leonard.
Damien Cortez of Good Cheer Food Bank said the news put things in perspective for him.
“Tough day,” Cortez wrote in a Facebook post. “Thinking of the Leonards and Zippy. All the lives, young and old this impacts. Yesterday, I was worried my lights would go off … Perspective is a funny thing.”
“I am part of a communal awe and sorrow,” wrote Langley resident Kent Junge.
“It goes beyond empathy. In another place I might say with secret relief, ‘That could’ve been me.’ But not here. Not now when we are already especially connected in celebration of the season and feel this sorrow in jarring contradiction to our shared good cheer. There is no ‘could’ve been me’ In a very real sense, what happens to them happens to me, as well.”
According to the Washington State Patrol, the family was heading east on Bailey Road toward Cultus Bay Road at about 12:46 p.m. when high winds snapped a fir tree and it fell on the family’s Ford Explorer as it passed by.
Julie Janeshefskie, Zippy’s mother, was driving the SUV as a section of the fir tree, about a foot-and-a-half in diameter and about 20 feet long, landed on the vehicle. The weight of the falling tree shattered the passenger side window and crushed the roof from one side of the Ford to the other.
Zippy, the youngest of three girls in the family, was in the back seat of the Explorer with her older sisters Wren Leoshefskie, 12, and Tamara Leonard, 18.
Zippy was sitting in the right rear passenger seat, on the side of the vehicle that took the brunt of the impact of the falling tree, next to Wren in the middle of the back seat.
Emergency workers tried to revive Zippy at the scene but were unsuccessful. Tim Leonard was taken to Whidbey General Hospital and later airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and the other occupants of the vehicle were treated and released.
The family is well-known across South Whidbey. Tim Leonard is an established metal artist with a resume thick with familiar ironworks. He crafted the expansive garden railings outside Useless Bay Coffee Company and helped construct its outdoor performance pavilion, as well as the now-iconic WICA letters that grace the outside of Langley’s performing arts center, and has done projects for the Choochokam Arts festival and the Inn at Langley.
Leonard has also been a crowd favorite at the annual Soup Box Derby in Langley, returning to race each year with his custom-built No. 13 speedster, which usually featured Zippy Leonard as the rear-seat co-pilot.
Cole, a friend of the Leonards, said she and Sherry Jennings are busy trying to organize support for the family, and friends are planning to open an account for the family Tuesday at Whidbey Island Bank.
“There is not a nicer person on earth than Tim Leonard and my heart just breaks for him and Juliet,” Cole said.
Jennings said a fundraiser is in the works with the help of Dez Rock of Useless Bay Coffee Company. Jenn Jurrians of Prima Bistro said she is also hoping to help with a fundraiser for the family.
The tragedy happened in the middle of a Christmas Day windstorm that hit Puget Sound and left thousands in the region without power.
High winds swept South Whidbey throughout the day, but the strongest gusts were reported shortly after 11:30 a.m.
The maximum windspeed was clocked at 25.3 mph at 11:38 a.m. Sunday, and followed the strongest gust of the day — measured at 41.4 mph — at 11:37 a.m., according to the weather site www.whidbeyweather.com.
Scattered power outages were also reported across the area. Allison Stanford, a PSE spokeswoman, said 19,000 customers in six counties were left in the dark.
On Monday, the start of an impromptu roadside memorial was beginning on Bailey Road at the site of the accident south of Clinton.
Flowers, a teddy bear with a letter in a plastic storage bag, an LED light and an angel figurine were placed next to wooden fence that was left smashed by the fallen tree. Tinted shattered glass was scattered along the street, brushed off the driving lanes, among tree branches and pine needles.
Record writers Ben Watanabe and Brian Kelly contributed to this report.