Whatcom County authorities believe they have found the body of the man who was reported missing by his family early Monday morning after being swept away by floodwaters caused by heavy rains.
What is believed to be the body of Jose Garcia was found in a wooded area in the 600 block of Main Street in Everson about 1 p.m. on Wednesday, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office. Sheila Mata, a close family friend, said field workers who volunteered in the search found the body.
The Whatcom County medical examiner is expected to confirm the dead man’s identity and cause of death.
Garcia had reportedly driven on a road that was closed off by flooding while on his way to work at a dairy farm, according to a news release from the Everson Police Department. His car was inundated by strong floodwaters, according to police. As he tried to get out of his car, he was swept into the current into a field north of East Main Street.
Though the family has some closure in knowing Garcia has been found, it’s frustrated with the lack of proactive action by police and officials involved in the search, said Mata.
“Our system failed us,” Mata said. “They felt they had to do it themselves.”
Garcia’s son, Luis Garcia, received a call from his father around 3 a.m. Monday, Mata said. Jose was desperately asking for help and asking Luis to go get him as he tried to hold on to a tree. Luis stayed on the phone with his father for an hour while the family called 911 until their phone call was disconnected.
Luis Garcia returned to the area the next day with a kayak, but officials turned him around because of safety concerns, Mata said.
“I don’t think he’ll ever forget that phone call, he just wanted someone to get his dad out safely, but because no one was doing it, he went himself,” she said.
There was no clear line of communication between authorities and the family throughout the ordeal, nor did the family receive an explanation of what the process would be or who would be involved, she added.
Friends, family and neighbors stepped up to help with the search, Mata said. But it was overwhelming to feel like it was all up to them at the time, she said.
Daniel MacPhee, chief of police for Everson and Nooksack, said he understands the family’s frustration. He said officers were not equipped or trained to search the area that was 5 feet underwater, so they deferred to Whatcom County search and rescue teams, which arrived around 6:30 a.m. Monday and were responding to emergencies all over the county.
Emergency services were spread thin while the city and nearby areas remained flooded, MacPhee said. On Tuesday, water levels were still high, but search and rescue was still searching with the use of drones and a helicopter, as was a ground crew, MacPhee said.
“The hardest thing is what we can do and what we can do safely?” he said.
By Wednesday, the water had receded to a safe enough level to search on foot and more than 150 community volunteers assisted the search, MacPhee said. It was community volunteers who found Jose’s body around 1 p.m., he said.
Mata set up a GoFundMe page on behalf of the family to help cover funeral expenses. The page has raised more than $7,000 of its $25,000 goal as of Wednesday afternoon.
“Jose was all about memories and spending time with his kids and his wife,” Mata said. “Just making them happy and making sure they were enjoying their life.”
The family had just returned from visiting family in California about a week ago, Mata said.
“He just was always the one to bring a smile to everyone’s faces,” she said.