2 dead, 1 injured during Tumwater church kayak outing

A Lacey man remains in intensive care after two of his friends died Saturday on a sea kayaking trip with a Tumwater church group.

Jacob M. Austin, 52, of Lacey and Mandi Walkley, 39, of Chehalis died after a sudden windstorm overturned their kayaks in the cold waters of Dungeness Bay near Sequim.

William “Bill” Kelley, 50, was at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Monday with a collapsed lung, but he was awake and responsive.

“He’s doing better,” said Tom Hartwell, executive pastor of Mountain View Church of the Nazarene in Tumwater.

The church held a special prayer service Sunday in response to the tragedy, and a memorial service will be planned, he said.

“We will do everything we can to support the families,” Hartwell said.

The kayak trip was organized by a hiking club at the church. Video captured by Dennis and Linda Caines showed that conditions were calm when the kayakers re-entered the water after a lunch break. However, the winds suddenly picked up and the waters got rough as a blinding rain squall rolled in, according to media reports. The couple, who were among four kayakers in the group to paddle safely back to shore, declined to be interviewed for this story.

A lighthouse attendant spotted the kayakers about 2:30 p.m., according to The Seattle Times. The U.S. Coast Guard launched a helicopter and a response boat while the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island sent a rescue chopper.

Reports say the victims were wearing life jackets, but none wore dry suits or similar materials that prevent hypothermia.

Austin had been a bus driver for Intercity Transit since 2007, and he drove a variety of routes across Thurston County and into Pierce County.

“He was very well known and was a very positive, upbeat individual,” said Heather Stafford-Smith, human resource director for IT. “We’ll miss him a lot.”

Walkley worked as a cashier at Home Depot in Chehalis and was a water fitness instructor at Thorbeckes Fitlife Center in Centralia. Jenni Bodnar, general manager at the fitness center, said Walkley was an outdoor enthusiast and an experienced kayaker who will be greatly missed by co-workers and clients.

“She had a great rapport with all of the people in her classes,” Bodnar said. “We just really appreciate her enthusiasm for life and wellness and health.”