Taylor Smith will spend two days in jail, 38 on an inmate work crew, and serve two years probation
VANCOUVER — “Happy it’s over.”
Those words summed up what has been a rough eight months for 17-year old Jordan Holgerson.
On Aug. 7 of last year, Holgerson was with some friends at Moulton Falls in north Clark County. She decided she wanted to jump from the bridge to the Lewis River 52-feet below but then hesitated. In a video that went viral across the internet, Holgerson is shoved violently from the bridge, plunging belly-first into the river. The fall broke six of her ribs, punctured both her lungs, led to a hematoma behind her windpipe, and severe bruising across her body.
A longer version of the video released later show the minutes leading up to the shove, as 18-year old Taylor Smith repeatedly urges Holgerson to jump.
“I’m going to push you,” says Smith.
“No,” responds Holgerson.
Moments later, without any further warning, a clearly frustrated Smith shoved her friend from the bridge.
Smith pleaded not guilty in September to a charge of reckless endangerment but changed her plea to guilty last week after reaching a deal with prosecutors.
At sentencing on Wednesday, a tearful Holgerson attempted to read a statement. Ultimately a court-appointed liaison had to read Jordan’s statement for her.
“I didn’t ask for any of this, but last Summer my said-to-be good friend changed my life for the worst,” she said. “This nightmare started for me when I was falling through the air, and it was really terrifying. When I was being pulled from the water I thought, ‘I’m going to die,’ because I couldn’t breathe and I was watching my body change color by the second.”
Holgerson spent three days in the hospital, and the next several weeks recovering at home. Her mother, Genelle Holgerson, told the court her daughter now suffers from panic attacks and anxiety brought on by the attack.
“I believe these have partly been caused by Taylor’s continued intimidation of my daughter,” said Holgerson. “Despite a restraining order, Taylor repeatedly showed up places where Jordan was socializing, causing Jordan to leave crying. This only stopped after her probation officer stepped in.”
Smith, in her comments, denied those allegations, saying in all but one case where Holgerson showed up someplace she was at, she had left of her own accord.
Jordan’s family says it’s their belief that Taylor never has truly apologized for what happened. She went on national television after the incident, saying she was only trying to help Jordan get over her fear of heights.
“I was really looking forward to a sincere apology, and all I’ve been receiving from the family is threats and lies,” said Holgerson in her statement to the court. “Taylor has made me feel guilty and look like a bad guy in this situation when I need to remember that I have done nothing wrong.”
In court on Wednesday, a tearful Smith issued what she said was a sincere and heartfelt apology.
“Throughout this terrible process I’ve not only grown as a person, but I’ve learned to think and process outcomes before I act upon a brief moment in time,” said Smith. “I’d like to sincerely apologize to Jordan Holgerson, and her family and friends, for the pain and humiliation I have caused by my mindless action that occurred last Summer. Although it may seem like my intent was to harm, or even though I moved on without putting any punishment on myself, this is false. Jordan has passed through my thoughts repetitively since the incident.”
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Laurel Smith asked Clark County Judge Darvin Zimmerman to sentence Smith to 120 days, including 60 days of monitored home confinement, 30 days on an inmate work crew, and 30 days of community service. Smith’s defense attorney, Nate Pliska, argued that request was exceptional for the charge in the case.
“I don’t believe this would be the state’s recommendation if this video wasn’t on the internet and it wasn’t all over the media,” said Pliska. “I truly believe this is a recommendation based upon fear and pressure. And that fear and pressure is from a segment of the community that wants Taylor vilified, and wants the book thrown at her.”
Later, Smith pushed back against Pliska’s assertion.
“Whether media is involved or not we treat every case as if it’s going to be viciously scrutinized,” said Smith. “And so we try to have the same approach in every case.”
Small town, big story
Both girls are from the small town of Kalama, Washington in Cowlitz County, and have more than a few friends in common. That, along with the notorious nature of the incident, led to more than a little speculation in the days that followed.
“It’s a small community so we get a lot of stuff sent to us about what Taylor did directly after Jordan was in the hospital,” said Genelle Holgerson after the sentencing. “Taylor attended the Clark County Fair and multiple things after that.”
Holgerson also accused Smith of simply leaving Moulton Falls after the push, rather than rushing to help, and not trying to visit Jordan in the hospital. Pliska and Smith both said that was untrue, and they displayed text messages they said Smith sent shortly after the incident expressing regret and remorse.
“I can’t say I don’t deserve the hate from the media or the loss of old friends,” Smith told the court, “but what I can say is that I have and will continue to try my best to right my wrongs and pray for a full recovery, not only physically but emotionally, to the Holgersons and the other people I’ve hurt by the decision I made.”
In a mild surprise to the court, Genelle Holgerson asked the judge for a stiffer sentence than the state was requesting.
“I ask that she sit in jail for as long as my daughter had to lay in that hospital,” said Holgerson. “I ask that she be on home confinement for as long as my daughter has had to go through this, and has had to stay at home having help.”
In his response, Pliska said the pair were “basically kids” at the time of the incident, and that Smith has learned from what happened and grown since then.
“I don’t think anyone can make a reasonable argument that she thought, ‘I want to put my friend in the hospital,’” said Pliska.
“She’s probably the most unlikely person in the world now to push somebody off a bridge,” agreed Judge Zimmerman. “But again, on the other hand, this is about the most reckless endangerment you can conceive.”
Zimmerman ultimately sentenced Smith to 40 days. The first two were to be spent behind bars, starting immediately, with 38 days on a Clark County work crew. She will also be required to complete a training course called Think for a Change. Following completion of her sentence, she will be on a two-year probationary period and is to have no contact with Holgerson or her family.
While she’s happy to see the whole thing behind her, Holgerson says the impact of the incident on that bright Summer day could last the rest of her life.
“I’ve always wanted to play college softball, but now I may not get that chance,” she says, referring to a rotator cuff injury suffered in the fall. She says recent symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have made it difficult to sleep or enjoy things. “This has taken over my life and limited the things I can do without having an attack.”
In his remarks, Pliska acknowledged that Jordan and her family have suffered greatly. But, he says, Smith has been the subject of death threats online and the viral nature of her bad decision will scar her for far longer than even the sentence passed on Wednesday.
“The internet is forever. They’re going to be forever linked,” said Pliska. “It’s a small community and Taylor is always going to be the girl that pushed her and Jordan is always going to be the girl that got pushed.”