Thurston undersheriff on Sheriff Snaza: ‘He is strong, and he’ll be back’

Sheriff John Snaza during a Feb. 11, 2016 interview.
Sheriff John Snaza during a Feb. 11, 2016 interview. sbloom@theolympian.com

Three days after Sheriff John Snaza was critically injured in a motorcycle crash, his top deputy is optimistic that the 51-year-old will once again patrol the streets of Thurston County.

“He is strong, and he’ll be back,” Undersheriff Tim Braniff said Friday afternoon.

Braniff updated media and county employees about Snaza’s condition at an emotional news conference. The sheriff still was listed in critical condition at Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He was breathing with the help of a ventilator because of internal injuries, but Braniff said he’s making strides toward breathing on his own.

His injuries include a punctured lung, a lacerated kidney, a severely broken left arm, and a damaged right hand. Snaza underwent a successful surgery Wednesday to fuse a bone in his neck. Braniff said he can move some extremities, including his legs and fingers.

“He actually stuck out his tongue,” Braniff said. “That’s the sheriff.”

However, Snaza hasn’t spoken yet, Braniff said.

So far, there’s no timeline for when he will return to Washington. The Tumwater Fire Department and Lacey Fire District 3 have offered to assist in bringing the sheriff home.

Snaza had been traveling Tuesday with a group of friends on Montana Route 200 at Milepost 23 near Noxon when he lost control of his 2009 Harley-Davidson while driving around a curve, said Trooper Steve Gaston of the Montana Highway Patrol. Snaza might have been trying to pass the other motorcyclists when he went off an embankment. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

In Montana, motorcyclists ages 18 and older aren’t required to wear helmets.

Braniff said he wasn’t sure how experienced Snaza is on a motorcycle — but he said Snaza “hadn’t been riding that long.” He said Snaza purchased the motorcycle sometime in the past four or five months.

Friday, Braniff specifically thanked Gaston, who was the first to respond to the crash scene, and a nurse named Alicia Smith, who stopped to render first aid. He also thanked Gov. Jay Inslee, the Thurston County community and other law enforcement agencies for their support.

“It’s a devastating time, but the men and women of this office are amazing. And they are strong,” Braniff said.

He said law enforcement agencies in Kootenai County have “bent over backward” to help the Snaza family.

Amelia Dickson: 360-754-5445, @Amelia_Oly

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