Bill and Julaine Ziegert loved to travel in their RV named Alice, to spend time with family and friends and, above all, to be together.
The evening of June 24, the Ziegerts took their customary drive up Idaho 55 from their Boise-area home toward their cabin in McCall. Their Jeep Cherokee reportedly went straight at a curve north of Smiths Ferry, plunging into the Payette River.
After nearly two weeks, emergency crews located the Jeep Thursday and recovered the two bodies inside. On Friday, the Valley County coroner identified the bodies, devastating the family and many friends of Bill and Julaine, ages 71 and 72. With them, also killed, was their dog, Tashi.
“They were so good, both of them, at respecting other people and being really supportive of everyone that was around,” said longtime friend Sora Garrett of Boise. “They just were so there for each other, so connected.
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“How beautiful that they had been together since they were in high school, and they left together.”
The Ziegerts’ four adult sons declined to comment publicly but shared a written tribute with the couple’s friends, and with the Statesman.
“Bill and Julaine loved each other without limits and viewed each day as a brand new adventure,” the family said.
Bill retired in 2015 as president of Smoke Guard, a Boise manufacturer of smoke and fire containment systems where he worked for about 25 years — roughly as long as the company has been around. His LinkedIn page shows he earned a civil engineering degree from Purdue University in Indiana and attended an advanced management program at Harvard.
Curtis Gonzales succeeded him as Smoke Guard president. Gonzales described him as “a very honest, high-integrity person, well-loved by all the people who worked with him and got to know him.”
Bill’s family called him “an exceptional and dedicated leader, truly valuing the contributions of others.”
“He was endlessly thoughtful and generous, sending multitudes of postcards to his grandchildren or regularly over-tipping restaurant servers,” the family statement said. “He radiated peace and contentment, helping his family and friends to truly know, as he said, that ‘it’s ALL good.’ ”
Julaine had worked as an early childhood education specialist for Idaho Public Television and for the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.
She traveled widely, trekking to Nepal, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, the Soviet Union and other far-flung locales, the family’s tribute said.
“She’s probably one of the most adventurous people that I ever met,” Garrett said. “She would go off on these trips, and Bill would support her.
“And it wasn’t just countries: She was the kind of person that if she was interested in something, she would go all in.”
Garrett echoed the family’s statement, which said, “connection was always at the heart of her travels. Connecting with people, connecting with cultures and connecting with herself.”
For years, Garrett said, Julaine held a spiritual gathering for women at her home every Wednesday night, calling it the Blessing. When the Ziegerts lived in Indiana, Julaine launched a Center for Unlimited Possibilities, and she carried that concept with her to Idaho. A sign from the center hung at the couple’s McCall cabin, she said.
The family’s tribute to the couple begins with oft-used quotes that their sons say exemplify their spirits.
From Bill: “It’s a friendly universe.”
From Julaine: “Love never dies; it simply changes form.”
Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447
Crash and recovery
About noon Thursday, divers found a 2017 Jeep Cherokee upside down in the water near milepost 99 along Idaho 55, according to a Valley County Sheriff’s Office news release. Officials had been searching for the SUV since it plunged into the river north of Smiths Ferry nearly two weeks earlier, on June 24.
Initial reports placed at least one person in the Jeep, a man numerous witnesses saw desperately and unsuccessfully trying to get out of the vehicle before it submerged near the Rainbow Bridge, Sheriff’s Lt. Jason Speer said in June. Witnesses indicated the SUV failed to negotiate a curve and instead went straight, heading downhill and hitting a rock before plunging into the water.
Water flow through Cascade Dam was reduced overnight Wednesday to make it easier to find and recover the vehicle, the sheriff’s office reported. Shortly after noon Thursday, one lane of Idaho 55 closed for recovery operations, and divers from the Gem County Sheriff’s Office and Boise Scuba Center located the Jeep.
Crews moved the vehicle to the west bank of the river so Cascade Rural Fire Department could extricate the two bodies. The scene was cleared and the highway reopened by 3:15 p.m.
Valley County Coroner Scott Carver said the Ziegerts’ causes of death have not been determined yet. The crash is still under investigation.