With his megawatt smile and magnetic personality, Jordan Shelley exuded kindness and enthusiasm, throwing himself into his studies and whatever new experiences came his way.
In considering his future, he saw going into medicine as the perfect means to combine his aptitude for math and science with his love for people.
“Jordan came the way he is — we can’t take any credit. We just watched him grow,” said his mother, Teresa Shelley, who with her husband, Lanny, adopted Jordan and his two younger siblings from an orphanage in Ethiopia in 2007. “Jordan just had such promise, and he wanted to do amazing things with his life.”
Jordan Shelley, 22, grew up on Whidbey Island and in 2018 was awarded a prestigious scholarship from Skagit Valley College that paid for two years at the University of Washington. He graduated from the UW last year with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and was working as an EMT in Seattle as he laid plans to eventually attend medical school.
Shelley was on his way to work early Tuesday when his car broke down on the shoulder of southbound Interstate 5 on the Ship Canal Bridge, according to King County prosecutors. As Shelley stood before his car’s open hood, another driver slammed into the back of his vehicle, striking Shelley and launching him off the bridge and into Lake Union 180 feet below.
Members of the Seattle Police Department’s Harbor Patrol pulled his body from 30 feet of water later that morning.
Prosecutors on Thursday charged Justin Kuo, 22, with vehicular homicide and reckless driving, accusing him of speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol when he crashed into Shelley’s car, causing both vehicles to flip over, charging papers say.
Kuo was arrested at the scene, booked into the King County Jail and released Thursday evening after posting $100,000 bail, jail and court records show. He’s scheduled to be arraigned June 9.
Shelley called his girlfriend for help at 4:22 a.m. Tuesday, and she texted him nine minutes later to say she was on her way, according to the charges against Kuo.
Another motorist later told investigators he was driving near the Ship Canal Bridge and went past a disabled car that had its headlights and hazard lights on and its hood up at 4:34 a.m. The motorist also saw a man standing in front of the car on the passenger side, talking on a cellphone, the charges say.
One minute later, the State Patrol received a 911 call notifying troopers of a two-vehicle collision.
By the time the first trooper got to the scene at 4:40 a.m., Shelley’s girlfriend had already arrived and found his cellphone on the freeway, the charges say.
Evidence at the scene led troopers to believe Shelley had gone over a jersey barrier and fallen into Lake Union.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office determined he died from multiple blunt-force injuries and drowning.
Troopers interviewed Kuo, who said he had three or four drinks at a friend’s house in Lynnwood and was driving home to Seattle’s Capitol Hill when he looked down to adjust his radio right before the crash, according to the charges. The charges say he smelled of alcohol, performed poorly on field-sobriety tests and had a preliminary blood-alcohol content of .086.
Teresa Shelley said she and her husband gave Jordan his car, a 1993 Mazda, when he graduated from Skagit Valley College’s Running Start program. She didn’t know her son was having car trouble but said it was his way not to ask for anything because he didn’t want to burden his parents.
He and his siblings “were a blessing from the beginning” and grew up alongside Teresa and Lanny Shelley’s four biological children, Teresa Shelley said.
“The good stuff was just amazing,” she said of raising her seven children, who range in age from 16 to 27.
The family and their circle of friends are struggling to make sense of Jordan Shelley’s death.
“No one here understands it,” Teresa Shelley said. “I wish he was here. The world needs more Jordans.”
In addition to his parents, Jordan Shelley is survived by his siblings — Gabriel, Gideon, Linnea, Isaac, Simon and Banchegize Shelley — and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. June 18 at the South Whidbey Assembly of God church, 5373 Maxwelton Road, Langley.