Waverly woman dead after vehicle submerged in high water

Search for driver suspended Friday

Photo by Evan Bevins Waverly volunteer firefighters, St. Joseph’s Ambulance personnel and West Virginia Division of Natural Resources officers survey the scene where a 1999 Jeep Cherokee, visible to the right, was found submerged in Laurel Creek off Laurel Creek Road near Old St. Marys Pike outside of Parkersburg Friday. The body of 18-year-old Waverly resident Topanga I. Smith was found inside, and a search for the male believed to be driving the vehicle was suspended Friday afternoon due to the weather and approaching nightfall.

PARKERSBURG — An 18-year-old Waverly woman died Friday after her vehicle was apparently swept away by high water.

The search for a second person, believed to have been behind the wheel, was suspended Friday evening due to weather and approaching darkness, Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens said.

The body of Topanga I. Smith, 18, of 172 Andy Acres Lane, Waverly, was recovered from a 1999 Jeep Cherokee pulled from Laurel Creek along Laurel Creek Road off Old St. Marys Pike outside Parkersburg around 12:50 p.m. Friday, Stephens said. The vehicle was spotted in the creek and authorities were notified at 11:07 a.m., he said.

But it may not have been the first time the vehicle was reported Friday.

“We had received a call earlier this morning … a report of a vehicle fitting that description that appeared to be stuck in high water,” Stephens said.

Photo by Evan Bevins Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens, left, speaks with a deputy at the scene where a Jeep was found in Laurel Creek Friday.

That call came in at 6:36 a.m., but due to high call volume, a deputy wasn’t able to reach the reported location at Old St. Marys Pike and Laurel Creek Road until 7:12 a.m., the sheriff said.

“By the time we got there, there was no vehicle visible on the roadway,” he said, noting high water prevented the deputy’s vehicle from continuing on the road.

Based on conversations with Smith’s family, Stephens said, it appears Smith was a passenger in the Jeep and a male, who the sheriff declined to identify, was driving. That individual is missing, Stephens said, and local volunteer fire departments were looking for him in the area until the search was suspended around 4:30 p.m. Friday.

“It appears to be (a situation) where the vehicle was in high water and got swept into the creek,” he said.

The incident remains under investigation.

Photo by Evan Bevins First responders watch Friday as Little Hocking Volunteer Fire Department firefighter/diver Jim Rodgers works to attach a line to a submerged Jeep Cherokee in Laurel Creek off Laurel Creek Road near Old St. Marys Pike outside Parkersburg.

Along with sheriff’s deputies, members of the Waverly Volunteer Fire Department and St. Joseph’s Ambulance Service responded to the scene. The Little Hocking Volunteer Fire Department Dive Team responded to assist, and members went into the water to connect cables from a Pifer’s Service Center truck to the Jeep to lift it out of the water.