Weeks after tragedy, crowds return to park

Site of fatal hit-and-run is ‘returning to normal,’ neighbors say

Visitors enjoy the cool waters and peaceful setting of the Sandy Swimming Hole park in Washougal on July 12.

Swimmers return to the Sandy Swimming Hole on July 12, less than three weeks after a fatal hit and run killed a German couple visiting the riverside park.

Visitors to the Sandy Swimming Hole pass a memorial on the fence at the Washougal park on July 12. (Wayne Havrelly/Post-Record)

It’s a warm, sunny Friday and swimmers and families have made their way back to the Sandy Swimming Hole in Washougal.

If it weren’t for the memorial of wilted flowers adorning the park’s newly repaired fence in the parking lot, there would be little evidence that this normally peaceful, tranquil Washougal River beach was the scene of a horrific crime just two weeks prior — when a man driving a Jeep Cherokee crashed his vehicle through a park barrier and drove onto the beach, running over and killing two German tourists before driving away.

A Washougal man was charged in the incident.

David Croswell, 71, is lodged at the Clark County jail, charged with two counts of vehicular homicide and two counts of felony hit and run for allegedly driving under the influence and running away from the scene on June 25, after killing Regina and Rudolf Hohstadt, a German couple in their 60s who were visiting family in the Portland-Vancouver area.

For many families who have returned to the small Washougal park, the tragedy is still on their minds.

Richard Tackett and his fiance, Jane Cruz, brought their infant niece and young nephew to their favorite spot on the Washougal River to cool off and make chili dogs on Friday, July 12. The couple, who recently moved to the area from Las Vegas, first visited the Sandy Swimming Hole just a few days before the fatal hit and run.

“It’s just a tragic thing that happened, just so heartbreakingly tragic,” Cruz said.

Tackett, who is an Army veteran, decided to set up chairs near a large tree just east of the grassy area where the Hohstadts were killed and said he wasn’t taking any chances with his family.

“I wasn’t sure if he came through here,” Tackett said, pointing to the grassy area where he’d set up his family’s belongings, “so you can see I have the baby seat right behind the tree. I’m just staying alert. I don’t want to be worried about something like that happening again, but we are taking precautions.”

Amy and Zach Zant, along with Brandon and Erin Fox, also went to the park on July 12 to cool off in the river and enjoy the sunny summer day. They all said they were thinking about the fatal hit and run when they set up their spots on the beach.

“We will change where we sit. We will probably end up over there somewhere,” Zach Zant, also a veteran, said, pointing to an area just south of the grassy area below the parking lot where police say Croswell drove down a 30-foot hill before running over the German couple.

Neighbors of the Washougal park say the grassy area where the Hohstadts died traditionally only fills up when all the spots right next to the water are taken.

“People usually want to be right down by the water unless it’s absolutely packed,” said Brian Little, who lives in a home across from the river.

Little watched paramedics try to save Regina Hohstadt’s life after her husband was rushed away by ambulance on June 25 from his backyard.

“At first I thought it was a drowning or a heart attack, but when they rolled the lady over I saw all the bruises and I thought, ‘What the hell just happened?'” Little said.

In 15 years of living on the river, Little said he has never witnessed any vehicle other than a city maintenance truck down by the river, so a hit-and-run accident was the last thing on his mind as he witnessed the tragic aftermath.

Four hours after the incident, court records state that Croswell’s son-in-law called 911 after hearing the description of the suspect vehicle on the news, telling police he had visited Croswell and saw matching damage on Croswell’s Jeep, which prompted him to call the authorities and report his father-in-law.

Police said Croswell’s Jeep Cherokee had extensive front-end damage and was missing its front grill. Police found tire markings, a partial front grill, paint chips, metal shavings and miscellaneous plastic pieces at the scene.

According to a police affidavit of probable cause, when officers spoke to Croswell, they could smell a strong odor of alcohol coming from him.

Croswell admitted to drinking alcohol beforehand, according to the affidavit.

Police stated in the affidavit that Croswell’s daughter, Leticia Croswell, who lives with him, said she “only sees (David Croswell) drink once a month” and that her father sometimes went to a local Chinese restaurant to have a drink with a friend.

Washougal Police Department Commander Allen Cook is in charge of the investigation and said the case is unlike any other homicide he’s ever worked on in his career.

“Most homicides you can put into context in some way, but this one appears so random and out of the ordinary and just made no sense,” Cook told the Post-Record.

A few weeks after the fatal hit and run, the summer crowds have returned to the popular Sandy Swimming Hole and Little said the area’s normally peaceful, relaxing vibe has returned.

“It’s kind of like when an accident happens on the highway,” Little said, “it doesn’t stop anyone from driving on the highway. The Sandy Swimming Hole is a popular place because it’s really nice and it’s close in.”

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