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Husband: Police took too long to look for wife

Tom Rider tells TODAY police in Washington State waited four days after his wife went missing and she might die now as a result. Tanya Rider, 33, was found alive but severely dehydrated after being trapped in the wreckage of a car accident for more than a week.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

A Washington State woman fighting for her life after spending eight days trapped inside her wrecked car might have been found earlier but police refused to initiate a search, the woman’s husband claims.

“My wife is alive,” Tom Rider, the anger apparent in his voice, told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira during a live interview Friday. “This is far from over. She’s in critical condition. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Tanya Rider’s car ran off the road on her way home from work in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, Wash., on Sept. 19. Pinned inside the car, she was unable to escape or summon help for eight days before searchers finally found her Thursday afternoon.

Humans can survive for weeks without food, but going even three days without water can be fatal. Tanya Rider apparently had nothing to eat or drink for eight days, and by the time she was rescued, her husband said, her kidneys had shut down and her body was filled with toxins. She also has sores over large areas of her body from being pinned in the car, unable to move.

“Even another hour, she wouldn’t be alive,” Tom Rider said. “She’s fighting for her life, and the scariest part is we didn’t even have insurance for her.”

Tom Rider expressed frustration at what he said was the unwillingness of local police to start searching for her when he reported that his 33-year-old wife didn’t return home from a job she had recently started on the overnight shift at a Fred Meyer supermarket.

Her car left the road and crashed in a ravine on her way home, leaving no signs of tire marks or crushed vegetation behind. Rider said heavy brush along the road folded under the car, then sprang back up. He drove past the site of the crash several times during his own search and never saw anything amiss.

The store is in Bellevue, so Tom Rider called police there first. But when surveillance video at the supermarket showed her getting in her car and driving away, they had no reason to suspect that anything had happened to her and referred him to the King County Sheriff’s Office.

“King County ignored me basically,” Tom Rider told Vieira. After four days, when she still hadn’t returned home, deputies finally started investigating, treating it as a possible criminal matter and making Tom Rider their lead suspect.

About to take a polygraphTom Rider said he understood that, as husbands are always suspects when a wife goes missing. He volunteered to take a polygraph test to eliminate himself and keep the search going. He was, in fact, at the sheriff’s office taking a test when Tanya Rider was finally found Thursday afternoon.

“They turned it into a criminal investigation, so I tried to end that as quickly as possible,” Tom Rider said. “My wife was out there and I didn’t know if she was alive or dead. Nobody believed me except the Bellevue police, and as soon as she left Bellevue, they weren’t concerned.”

Finally convinced that it was a missing-person case, investigators went back over Tanya Rider's cell phone records, tracing its signal to a three- to five-mile radius.

The search was refocused on the highway she took on the way home and the car was finally found 20 feet down a steep ravine near the town of Renton, Wash.

Fearing that trying to remove her from the car would kill her, Tom said, rescuers basically removed the car from around her, then airlifted her to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The Associated Press reported that she was alert and talking but had difficulty breathing.

Tom Rider said that his wife had recently taken the job and was planning to get insurance through her employer. She knew there was a risk she could need to see a doctor while she was waiting to be become eligible, but didn’t think it would be a problem.

“She figured we had a little money in the bank and if she got sick, we could just pay for it out of pocket,” he said.

Tom, who is planning a prayer meeting for Tanya next Tuesday, said he was sure she will recover and somehow they’ll find a way to pay for her medical care.

“If she can survive for eight days, she can make it through the rest of this,” he said.