The semi tractor-trailer was southbound on Interstate 5 along Washington’s west side when it rear-ended another semi stopped in traffic near Kalama.
That explosive collision on May 14, 1991, killed two people — the driver of the semi that rear-ended the other and the young Native woman traveling with him. He was identified as 26-year-old Lester Dean Harvel, a long-haul trucker who left Missouri on May 7. But the real name of his unauthorized female passenger, who was severely burned, is still unknown.
Investigators with the Washington State Patrol call her Helen Doe, after Mount St. Helens in the distance. She is among 145 unidentified persons cases in Washington state on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, known as NamUs. The public database features missing, unidentified and unclaimed persons cases throughout the United States.
Authorities traced Harvel’s route using fuel receipts. He left Villa Ridge, Mo., on May 7, 1991. On May 8, he possibly was in Concordia, Mo.. Harvel was in Limon, Colo., on May 9, fueled up in Rock Springs, Wyo., just after noon on May 10 and reached Boise late that day. On May 12, he reached Baker City, Ore., and dropped off his load in Tacoma on May 14. The crash happened mid-afternoon that day, according to information provided by the State Patrol.
Initially buried in an unmarked grave at a cemetery in Cowlitz County, Doe was exhumed in 2014 for her DNA. She was likely a Native woman in her 20s, was 5 feet 1 inches to 5 feet 4 inches tall, is estimated to have weighed around 110 to 130 pounds and had high cheekbones, dark hair, a dark complexion and a gap in her lower front teeth. She had a lot of dental work done. Doe had severe scoliosis and probably walked with a limp.
She was last seen wearing Levis, a gray shirt under a black cowboy vest, a feather earring and several rings.
Helen Doe is at the Cowlitz County Coroner’s Office until she is identified and can be returned to her family. DNA, dental records and X-rays are available. Those with information about her case should call the State Patrol’s cold case team at 425-401-7740 or email Stacy.Moate@wsp.wa.gov, reference case number 00-004956.