A Boise mother intentionally drove her SUV off a 50- to 70-foot cliff into Lucky Peak Reservoir in June last year, killing herself and her three young children, the Ada County Sheriff’s Office said Friday.
The Ada County coroner has ruled the death of Noel Bankhead, 40, a suicide. The deaths of her three children — Gwyneth Voermans, 8, Logan Voermans, 11, and Anika Voermans, 13 — were ruled a homicide. The cause of their deaths were drowning associated with blunt force trauma from the impact of the vehicle on the water.
The children in the crash attended East Junior High and Riverside Elementary in Boise. The school district has counselors available to to staff, students and families who need to talk — not just Friday, but in the weeks ahead, said Dan Hollar, spokesman for the Boise School District.
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The crash occurred before 7 a.m. June 2, 2016, on the north side of High Bridge on Idaho Highway 21.
There were no skid marks or other signs of braking at the scene.
“Witnesses later told investigators Noel Bankhead was driving her Land Rover northbound on Idaho 21, slowed down, turned on to Spring Shores Road, and positioned the car towards the cliff and suddenly accelerated,” Friday’s press release said.
Sheriff’s investigators did a thorough check of the vehicle’s repair history and looked for recalls. There was no documented issue with the SUV.
An autopsy determined that Bankhead did not suffer any kind of medical emergency before the crash, the coroner told the Statesman. Results of toxicology tests showed no medication or alcohol in her system.
The coroner’s office did not make its ruling until sheriff’s investigators had exhausted all avenues for information about the crash.
Sheriff’s investigators had hoped the SUV’s event data recorder — akin to an airplane’s “black box” — would provide critical information about the vehicle before the crash. The EDR records speed, acceleration, braking, engine RPM and fault codes.
The damaged box from the 2008 Land Rover LR3 was mailed to its British manufacturer twice but they were unable to get a reading off it.
Bankhead was a paralegal and legal secretary. She and her former husband, both graduates of Cambridge High School, got married in 1995. They divorced three years ago.
The crash into Lucky Peak from along Arrowrock Road near High Bridge was the second since 2010. In the immediate aftermath, some who live and work in the area said barriers on the north side of the bridge could prevent people from intentionally or unintentionally driving into the reservoir.
Soon after, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers placed large boulders on the cliff side of the gravel parking lot.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lucky Peak Park Manager Keith Hyde told the Statesman.
The Voermans children are survived by their father and three grandparents. Grieving family members have asked for privacy, a sheriff’s office spokesman said.