The young couple who died with their 8-month-old baby on Monday when a concrete slab fell onto their truck from a highway overpass were beloved, “lighthearted” youth pastors at a church in Bonney Lake.
The young couple who died along with their 8-month-old baby when their pickup was crushed by a concrete slab that fell from a highway overpass are being remembered as beloved youth pastors at their Bonney Lake church.
Josh and Vanessa Ellis possessed a joyfulness and sense of humor that would transcend even the tragedy that befell their family, said Shane Lance, worship pastor at Eastpointe Foursquare Church.
“If they were here right now, they would be laughing,” said Lance, a close friend of the couple’s and godfather to their son, Hudson. “They would not be laughing at the loss of life, or the tragedy, but they would find some way to bring joy or amusement to others.”
Josh Ellis, 25, worked at the state Department of Licensing office in Kent, said Lance. Vanessa Ellis, 29, was about to go back to work at lululemon, a yoga-clothing company, after maternity leave, he said.
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The three were killed instantly Monday morning when a huge concrete slab weighing thousands of pounds fell from a Highway 410 overpass and landed on their Toyota pickup in Bonney Lake. The accident occurred as construction crews were working on a $1.8 million project to install a sidewalk and improve pedestrian access along the highway, according to Woody Edvalson, a spokesman for the city of Bonney Lake.
The destruction of the couple’s pickup was so total that emergency personnel initially believed only one person had been in the vehicle.
Dawn Nelson, who was in a car on Angeline Road East behind the pickup, told KING 5 she heard “three snaps and down it went on top of the truck. There was nothing anyone could do. It was just surreal.”
Officials are trying to determine what caused the slab to break away and drop onto the pickup as it traveled on Angeline Road East.
Bonney Lake police, the Washington State Department of Transportation and representatives from the general contractor, WHH Nisqually Federal Services, are investigating the accident. On Tuesday, officials refused to speculate on what caused the slab to drop.
On Wednesday, Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson temporarily suspended work on the project “to complete our investigation, but more importantly we need to show respect to the family and friends of the victims.“
Johnson also said in a news release that the city is trying to determine whether the demolition plan was followed.
The city-run project included rebuilding the north side of the Highway 410 overpass, adding a sewer line, widening the highway between the bridge and 192nd Avenue East and adding bases for future streetlights, city documents show.
Edvalson, the Bonney Lake spokesman, said the slab that fell was part of the original bridge span, which was built in 1992.
In a statement released on Tuesday, WHH Nisqually said company employees send “their sincerest condolences to the relatives and friends of the young family that died in the tragic accident on Highway 410 in Bonney Lake yesterday. Words do not adequately express our grief, sorrow, and sympathy.”
The company said it would not comment further on the potential cause of the accident until the investigation is completed and they are able to provide an accurate account of events.
The project has been shut down while the company re-emphasizes to employees and subcontractors the overriding importance of safety to the project and the public, the statement said.
According to the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), WHH Nisqually was the general contractor for the project, and Staton Companies of Oregon and American Concrete Cutting were subcontractors.
A spokeswoman for L&I said a records search showed WHH Nisqually did not have a history of penalties or citations.
Records also showed that Staton Companies had been inspected on at least two occasions.
In 2009, L&I investigators inspected a Vancouver, Wash., worksite where a transformer had caught fire during a demolition. No violations were found and the company was not cited, according to spokeswoman Elaine Fischer.
Staton was cited and fined $200 in 2012 after the company’s employees were seen working on a bridge in Marysville without proper protection in case of a fall.
Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division also fined Staton $275 in 2009 for a workplace-safety violation relating to demolition work on a Portland bridge, according to the News Tribune of Tacoma. Inspectors found the company flouted a requirement that employers — prior to the start of demolition — must commission an engineering survey to determine whether a structure may collapse unexpectedly, and maintain a written record of that survey, the newspaper reported.
American Concrete Cutting did not have any reported violations, Fischer said.
The overpass was reopened late Monday, but debris from the concrete slab remained along the road beneath it the following day. A makeshift memorial of flowers, a cross and a teddy bear had been placed nearby.
Lance, the worship pastor at the Ellises’ church, said the couple were originally from Mount Vernon. They met at church years ago and attended Bible college together.
“They were lighthearted and they loved to laugh,” Lance said. “They were very well liked and very funny, out-of-control funny. And they loved Jesus. That’s just how they were.”
But their passion was the youth ministry they ran as a couple.
“They loved to see kids come to know Jesus,” said Lance.
Josh Ellis also played the guitar and served in the church’s music and worship program, he said.
Senior Pastor James Ludlow described the Ellis family as “great people” who were loved by kids in the church’s congregation. They were “the type of people everybody loves and gravitates to,” he said.
Lance said church members are reeling, but also trying to find comfort in their faith.
“I mean, it’s just unfathomable, but we know God is good and God is sovereign. I know it seems illogical to say, but we believe God can pull goodness out of this situation,” he said. “It’s just that we miss them.”