On May 1, 1962, the weather was overcast in Mason County, Wash. Will H. Simpson had just finished up work as a plywood machine operator around 4 p.m. It was his 50th birthday, and he had plans to celebrate at a nearby tavern off Highway 101.
Simpson hopped into his 1953 Dodge pickup truck and drove to the bar for libations and revelry. At 5 p.m., after having two drinks, he decided to head home. Simpson rolled down his driver window halfway and pulled onto the highway, heading south. Misjudging a turn, Simpson veered from the pavement and onto a berm bordering a swamp, 1,000 feet wide and containing dense flora, shrubs, and other vegetation. The water was dark, and its surface was covered with patches of green slime. On the bottom was a layer of muck, 1 foot deep.
The pickup, which had a camper shell bolted to the truck bed, landed upright in the swamp with an audible splash heard by the drivers of two cars that were traveling behind Simpson in the same lane.
Another passing motorist, Lasca Joy Grytness, was driving a sedan with six boys inside, including her son Darrell, 12, toward the town of Shelton. The Daily Olympian of Washington reported the boys were baseball teammates, and Grytness was driving them home from Lower Skokomish Elementary school. From 500 feet away, she witnessed the truck veer abruptly from the highway and enter the swamp water below.
On impact, Simpson’s window shattered, and Simpson was hurled against the steering wheel with a force that cracked four of his ribs and rendered him unconscious.
The occupants of other cars — four men and a woman — exited their cars and raced north to a point where they could see the truck, which was about 35 feet west of the east bank and about 100 feet north of the south edge of the swamp. As the pickup truck sank deeper into the swamp, sludge rose to an inch below the cab’s windows.
Grytness stopped her car where Simpson had driven off the road. She exited the vehicle and instructed the boys to stay put. Grytness raced to the other bystanders and urged the men to take action.
“I won’t enter the foul water for anything,” stated one man.
The other bystanders said they didn’t know how to swim.
As part of his investigation, Commission hero hunter Herb Eyman recorded details of Grytness’ swimming ability. He indicated that her skills were poor and that she had a longstanding fear of total immersion. She could float and tread water fairly well, but had no prior water rescue training or experience.
Fearing the unconscious driver was about to drown, Grytness cast her jacket aside. Keeping on her shoes, pedal-pusher trousers, cotton blouse, and glasses, she descended the steep gravel bank to the swamp. When she reached the edge of the slimy water she pushed off with her legs, assumed a swimming position, and entered the swamp. Grytness swam 35 feet westward to the side of the pickup truck, using a modified breast stroke and ensuring she kept her head above the slimy water in the 7-foot-deep water.
By now, the swamp water had risen to just above the sill of the driver’s door window. Fragments of broken, jagged glass surrounded the window frame.
“Come, you must get out of there!” Grytness implored of Simpson, resting her left hand on the roof to avoid being cut by the shattered window glass.
Simpson, still unconscious, did not respond. Treading water, Grytness reached below the surface of the discolored slime and, with one hand, grasped blindly for a door handle. When she located it, she attempted to open the door, unsuccessfully. Then, using both hands and bracing her feet against the side of the hood for leverage, she pulled hard and opened the door. Grytness held to the top of the door with her right hand and grasped Simpson’s coveralls with her left. The truck continued sinking and the water level had risen to Simpson’s chin.
“Come on!” Grytness pleaded as she tread water with one arm and maintained her grip on Simpson with the other.
Feeling Grytness’ touch and hearing her pleas, Simpson gained partial consciousness.
“Everything is going to be alright,” he mumbled, oblivious to his present predicament.
Grytness pulled on Simpson’s shoulder, but found his chest wedged against the steering wheel. Meanwhile, Simpson struggled to sit up as the water rose to his mouth.
Only 10 inches of space remained between the water’s surface and top of the cab.
Suddenly, Simpson became limp again.
Grytness pulled hard on his coveralls and Simpson floated free from the seat and steering wheel through the open doorway of the cab as the truck continued steadily sinking.
By then, 20 onlookers had assembled at the bank of the swamp.
One man had a coil of rope. He hurled an end of it toward Simpson who was lapsing in and out of consciousness and therefore made no effort to grasp it.
Grytness refrained from reaching for the rope because she feared Simpson would submerge if she released her grip on his shoulder to lunge for it. Instead, she maintained her hold and swam on her side, using her right arm and legs to propel them toward the closest bank. At times, Simpson briefly revived and instinctually made swimming gestures, but he soon succumbed to unconsciousness again.
Grytness swam for 25 feet, hoping one of the countless bystanders would come to her aid, but no one dared enter the stagnant and slimy water. However, one man began descending the hillside toward the swamp so she swam in his direction. With tremendous effort, she swam 15 feet and reached the man, who was clinging to a utility pole near the swamp’s edge to maintain his balance on the steep bank. He grabbed Simpson, who remained limp and unconscious, by his coveralls, and pulled him part of the way onto the bank. Others helped to pull Simpson the rest of the way up to the berm. They covered him with a blanket as he regained partial consciousness. Free of Simpson’s weight, Grytness reached for the man’s extended hand. He and others assisted her onto level land.
By now, the pickup had fully submerged into the muck.