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Missing woman found dead inside crashed car

Autopsy shows blunt force head trauma killed 19-year-old Nichole Sherman, missing since Nov. 13
by: Courtesy photo CRASH SCENE — Nichole Sherman was found dead in her car Saturday, Dec. 17 after it apparently ran off the roadway near Rainier, hit a tree and plummeted into a 20-foot-deep gully.

The mystery surrounding the month-long disappearance of a 19-year-old Rainier woman was solved this week as search and rescuers found the teenager's body seatbelted inside her wrecked car a few miles from her home.

Nichole Sherman was last seen Nov. 13 while driving from her Meissner Road home to a friend's house on Apiary Road - a few miles away. Investigators say it now appears she crashed during that trip.

An autopsy performed Monday by the State Medical Examiner found that Sherman died from blunt force head trauma. They ruled her death an accident.

Family, friends, police and a private search and rescue team, have spent the last month scouring the region, including Longview where Sherman attended Lower Community College, to find any clues. Nothing turned up.

Because no car had been found and the area had been searched multiple times, including by private aircraft, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office originally ruled the missing person case as 'highly suspicious.' Throughout the month, officers worked any leads they could find -including hunches that the disappearance may have been criminal in nature.

Based on a crash scene investigation, it seems Sherman veered off the road, wrapped the car's passenger side against a tree and plummeted down into a 20-foot-deep gully.

Although numerous searches were ongoing, the day Sherman was found was the first day the county's official search and rescue team was activated. That's because the rural region is so expansive and investigators had no good starting point to begin a detailed ground search, Dickerson said.

'If you don't have a good starting place, you don't know where to look,' Dickerson said about the choice to not activate the nearly 25-member volunteer team until this week.

'It was not really a search and rescue effort at that point.'