Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

December 12, 2013
Jane Ashby death ruled undetermined in examiner report

What happened to a Tooele woman who disappeared in July and whose remains were found in October is still a mystery.

Jane Ashby, 62, disappeared on July 31, telling her family she was off to a work meeting in American Fork, which coworkers later denied occurred. On Oct. 12, a Boy Scout troop hiking in Middle Canyon near Butterfield Pass stumbled upon the remains of her body and a red 2011 Ford Escape.

The vehicle had evidently driven off the dirt road and crashed down a slope. The accident is believed to have happened within days of Ashby’s disappearance.

According to autopsy results by the state medical examiner’s office, the cause of Ashby’s death has been ruled undetermined, citing a lack of evidence to allow for a conclusive ruling.

The report indicated that Ashby had prescription drugs in her system at the time of her death; however, because of decomposition, it was impossible to tell just how much of the drug, which was prescribed to her, was present in samples, said Det. Eli Wayman of the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s not accurate to say, ‘This is what we found in the blood.’ It was just present in the tissue,” he said.

Additionally, Wayman said the medical examiner found no major bone breaks, which would be typical in most car crashes of that nature.

“You could run a crash like that a hundred times and 99 of those times, you’d have broken bones,” he said, noting that internal or other bodily injuries could have been a cause of death without leaving marks on the bones—or there could be another cause entirely.

The SUV had been badly damaged in the crash, but because of its age it is unlikely that a major mechanical failure was the cause of it leaving the road, said Wayman. Because tissue decomposition has made it impossible to tell how much prescription medication was in Ashby’s system at the time, or how it may have affected her, investigators can not conclusively determine if that was a contributing factor.

“We don’t know if she was conscious when she drove off or not conscious,” said Wayman.

The end of the case has, however, provided one answer to some of the speculation from Ashby’s disappearance. Early in the search for her, police urged caution to stay clear if anyone did spot her vehicle. Ashby’s last credit card transaction, made minutes after she left her house, showed she had purchased bleach and drain cleaner that could be combined to make noxious gas.

Wayman said both bottles were found unused in the wreckage of her SUV. He further said the bleach was still sealed, and though the drain cleaner had spilled, it was believed to have happened during the crash.

“We don’t believe that either one of those had even been touched,” he said. “There was no evidence in the toxicology to suggest an off-the-wall chemical.”

The rest of the unanswered questions will likely never be answered, he said.

“We don’t know what killed her. All we know is there were no major broken bones and her toxicology came back showing drugs she was prescribed, so it’s hard to say what specific thing killed her,” he said. “It just kind of leaves it up to the imagination to say, ‘This could have happened, or this could have happened.’”

For Ashby’s family, though the details will never be known, some things seem likely to have happened just by knowing her and what she would likely do.

“I’d like to think that I know who my mom was and her love for her family and her goodness won out in the end and that she was coming home, and she was coming down the canyon,” said Ashby’s daughter, Michelle Graves. “It’s a pretty treacherous canyon, and because of the prescriptions she was prescribed by her doctor, she could have lost control.”

“No, we’ll never know what happened,” she added, “but I think that there’s enough evidence that would show she was coming home, or could have been coming home that that’s what we’ve chosen to believe, because she was such a good person.”

Lisa Christensen

Staff Writer at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Lisa covers primarily crime and courts, military affairs, Stansbury Park government and transportation issues. She is a graduate of Utah State University, where she double-majored in journalism and music, and Grantsville High School.

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