Jessyca Sweeten was driving home late on the night of July 23 after seeing the play “Wicked” in Portland. Headed east on state Highway 14 in Vancouver, she suddenly heard a booming noise to her left.
“It was so loud I thought the airbag had actually gone off,” said Sweeten, 27, of Vancouver.
Days passed before Washington State Patrol investigators determined the sound came from a bullet, rather than debris, striking the top of the driver’s side door and shattering the window. The fractured glass lacerated Sweeten’s face and gathered in her left eye.
Sweeten said at a press conference Monday she didn’t see or hear anything suspicious, and no other cars were nearby when the incident took place at 11:27 p.m. between Evergreen Boulevard and Lieser Road.
“Shot in the dark, quite literally,” Sweeten said. “I didn’t see anything, hear anything. I mean, I was just driving.”
WSP detectives are still seeking information about the bizarre shooting. Investigators began probing the case as a potential shooting Wednesday, Trooper Will Finn said. After the vehicle was examined at the WSP Crime Lab in Vancouver, detectives confirmed Friday that a single bullet struck the car.
“Through the investigation of the incident, we determined that there may be something a little different with this one, and it wasn’t a piece of debris that maybe flew up from the road, such as a rock, a piece of tire, something,” Finn said. “We are following up on a few leads that we have and going through the process of that investigation.”
Investigators tested the damaged part of the door for copper or lead residue, which is often present when a bullet strikes an object, said Stephen Greenwood, a forensic scientist with the WSP crime lab. A bullet fragment was also found inside the car, though its type has yet to be determined.
To state patrol’s knowledge, Clark County law enforcement agencies have not received reports of similar incidents, Finn said. Investigators have partially mapped out the area where the shooting took place but have been unable to find any clues from the surrounding residential neighborhood.
The incident appears to be unique for Southwest Washington, save a shooting that took place on a roadway in Cowlitz County a few weeks ago, Finn said. Investigators believe that was the result of road rage.
“But at this point, we don’t really have anything to go off of,” Finn said of the Vancouver shooting. “So to say that it’s unusual is absolutely the case.”
After Sweeten heard the boom and felt the glass hit her face, she pulled over and noticed blood dripping. She contacted her husband to let him know what had happened before calling 911.
Sweeten was taken to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, where she was treated and released after a few hours. Glass was removed from her eye, the cuts were determined to be superficial and an eye specialist told Sweeten not to expect long-term damage.
“Everything is going to heal up OK, so I was really lucky,” Sweeten said.
Sweeten said the fact a bullet narrowly missed her did not sink in until Friday. She drove again for the first time Sunday after getting rides from friends and family last week.
“It’s been really crazy,” she said. “You get anxious for sure.”
On Monday, however, Sweeten appeared to be in good spirits. She joked that she felt bad about the damage to the car, a 2018 red Subaru Impreza primarily driven by her husband.
“Mrs. Sweeten is very lucky. Speaking with the detectives, a few more inches and we might be having a different conversation today,” Finn said. “Although she has a great attitude about it and is upbeat, this is a very serious matter and we want to close this investigation.”
Sweeten has lived in Vancouver for most of her life, she said, and has never been through a similarly frightening ordeal.
“I really feel like, overall, it’s a pretty safe place to live,” Sweeten said. “I hope it was just a case of someone just improperly shooting in their yard or something — just wrong place, wrong time kind of a thing. I’ve been trying not to think about it too much if it was really something nefarious as far as someone intentionally shooting at random cars.”
Detectives are looking for witnesses to the shooting. Anyone who has information should contact Detective Jen Ortiz at 360-449-7948 or Jennifer.Ortiz@wsp.wa.gov.
“If you saw something or know something about this incident, we’re encouraging you to please call in and help us solve this crime,” Finn said.