A Homer woman missing since last Friday was found dead by Rotary Club friends Sunday afternoon in a single-car auto accident near Mile 54 Seward Highway just north of Summit Lake. Shari Henkelman, 49, was discovered still seat-belted in her overturned green 1998 Subaru Impreza about 100 yards off the road in a creek, said Alaska State Trooper Spokesman Greg Wilkinson. Thick alders hid the car from the road.
“There was no obvious sign on the road where she had gone in,” Wilkinson said.
Henkelman last spoke with her husband, Jim Henkelman, when she called about 12:30 p.m. from Anchorage to say she was heading home. When she did not show up for dinner that night, Jim Henkelman notified Homer police and Alaska State Troopers. Friends began driving the roads between Homer and Anchorage on Saturday. Several pilots also searched from the air. Friends and family believed Henkelman went missing from an auto accident, said Jane Little, charter president of the Rotary Club of Homer Downtown. The Henkelmans were a charter member of Downtown Rotary.
“We all felt it had been an automobile accident,” Little said. “None of us felt it was foul play.”
Members of Downtown Rotary, Homer Kachemak Bay Rotary and Anchorage International Rotary Club organized another search Sunday. Henkelman and a group drove from Homer north, and Little started searching with Greg Wakefield of Anchorage Rotary in a group heading south.
After reading a missing person bulletin, a witness realized he’d seen Henkelman’s car about 3:20 p.m. Friday near the Hope Junction turnoff, Jim Henkelman said. Searchers concentrated their efforts there. Little said she and Wakefield drove slowly north of Summit Lake and she saw a bent guardrail.
“For some reason, I said, ‘I just want to stop and walk this one’,” Little said.
She saw a car in a ravine. Wakefield walked down and confirmed it was Henkelman’s car. He called troopers from a nearby emergency call box.
“I’m just grateful we were able to find her and stop the family from not knowing what was going on,” Little said.
According to a trooper investigation, the Subaru went off the road, flipped end over end several times and came to rest upside down in the creek. Henkelman was in about a foot of water, Wilkinson said. Her body was taken to the Alaska Medical Examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy to confirm the cause of death. Troopers investigated the accident, but have not determined why Henkelman drove off the road. No other vehicles were believed to have been involved, Wilkinson said.
The Henkelman family moved to Homer last May. They have three daughters. The oldest daughter, Kaitie May, is married and lives in Texas. The younger girls, Lindsay and Emilie, attend Homer High School.
“She really was an incredible person,” Henkelman said of his wife. “Homer didn’t have time to experience her talents.”
Little praised the troopers for their assistance.
“They made a lot of really good suggestions of what to do,” she said. “The troopers were really great.”
She also praised the work of Anchorage and Homer Rotarians.
“Everybody was very concerned. If we had not found her (Sunday), there would have been hundreds of people walking,” Little said.
“Folks down here have been really amazing,” Henkelman said. “It’s hard to know where you start saying your thank you’s because you start leaving people out.”
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