Battling exhaustion and dark and stormy conditions on the road, Jacques apparently pulled over along Alligator Alley, intending to take a break. But she accidentally steered down a boat ramp and into 18-feet of murky water, authorities said Thursday.
It was at that boat ramp near mile marker 31 on Wednesday morning that divers with the Broward County Sheriff's Office found her green Dodge Caravan submerged in a canal, covered in algae and filled with mud. They found bones inside the vehicle.
The windshield wipers were still set to the on position, the doors were locked, the windows rolled up and the car was still in drive, said Broward Sheriff's Office Detective Jeff Kogan.
Neither he nor investigators at the Broward Medical Examiner's Office found any evidence of foul play.
"We found no evidence of breakage or injury to the bones, and I expect we won't find any," Broward Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Perper said Thursday.
He said investigators quickly concluded the bones were those of Jacques and her daughters, Johanna St. Louis, 7, and Juanita, 5.
The investigators used circumstantial evidence:
The van was registered to Jacques;
The family was known to have been in a minivan when they vanished June 2, 1999;
Alligator Alley was the most probable route the family would have taken toward Tampa;
The bones matched those of an adult woman and two children.
For confirmation, investigators plan to compare DNA samples collected Thursday from Jacques' immediate relatives with samples from the bones.
To her family, the shocking news came with relief and sadness.
"The whole family is sad, but now we have some closure," said Jacques' brother, Valbrun Chevalier, 32, of Port St. Lucie. "She was a very loving mother and very protective of her children."
Chevalier said he and his family have begun discussing plans for a service, but they didn't yet know when the Medical Examiner's Office would release the bones to them.
He added that investigators explained their theory to him, but he still has questions.
About a month before her 1999 disappearance, Jacques had separated from her husband of four years, Jean Jacques, 38, of Tampa.
According to Jean Jacques, they were having marital problems, lived separately and were in the process of divorcing. He said his cousin's girlfriend was the first to call him Wednesday to tell him about a van being found.
"She said, 'They're showing the van on the news!'" Jean Jacques said. "I just keep getting phone calls."