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St. Maries Physician Killed Struck While Offering Assistance

A well-known St. Maries physician was killed early Tuesday after he had stopped to help a stranded motorist west of Worley, Idaho.

Walter Dyce Thurston, 76, was struck by an oncoming car whose driver apparently didn’t see him in the heavy rain. Also struck was Karla M. Jones, 30, of Spokane, whose 1983 pickup had stalled beside the road.

Jones, who was thrown onto the shoulder of the road, suffered severe cuts and a broken leg.

Thurston’s death shocked St. Maries, where he had been a doctor for nearly 40 years. He still worked part time at a local clinic and made occasional house calls to the elderly.

“It’s stunned the town,” said pharmacist Jack Botts. “He probably has more friends than anyone I can think of in this valley.”

Several people in this logging town of about 2,400 said the way Thurston died - trying to help someone - was typical of him.

“It’s natural,” said Botts. “If somebody was in trouble, he’d always stop and give assistance.”

The Community Presbyterian Church in St. Maries, anticipating a large turnout, will hold funeral services Saturday at the St. Maries High School gymnasium.

“His family decided that just because of the sheer numbers (of mourners), we’d better move it to the high school,” said student pastor Mike Japenga. “I don’t think there’s a church in St. Maries that could hold them all.”

Botts said Thurston was driving back to St. Maries from the Spokane airport. He’d just returned from a friend’s wedding.

Shortly after midnight, Jones had car trouble. Her pickup was parked in the westbound lane of the highway with no lights on, according to the Idaho State Police. Thurston, going eastbound, pulled his 1989 Jeep onto the shoulder and got out to help. He left his lights on, according to a police dispatcher.

As Thurston and Jones stood behind the truck, a 1974 Cadillac driven by 31-year-old Carla J. Summers of Spokane approached. Summers apparently saw only Thurston’s Jeep. She hit Thurston and Jones, killing Thurston instantly.

Raised in South Dakota, the son of a cowboy-turnedmerchant, Thurston served as a Navy doctor in World War II and the Korean War. He married Barbara “Bobbie” Kroeger in Oakland, Calif. She died in 1990, when faulty electrical wiring burned their ranch home to the ground.

The couple had moved to St. Maries in 1957, seeking a close-knit community to raise their five children. They enjoyed hunting and fishing.

“In a small town, it seems like you know everyone,” Thurston said in an interview last November. “If somebody has a fire, people are right there, donating food and clothing.”

Thurston delivered more than 1,200 babies, and in some cases, served as doctor to five generations of families. He retired in 1984, but began working again to help out swamped rural physicians. He drove his Jeep 10,000 miles a year, working at clinics in Plummer and St. Maries, and Tekoa, Wash.

Friends and colleagues Tuesday remembered Thurston as a kindly doctor who didn’t mind giving sidewalk consultations when patients spotted him downtown.

“He would treat people, rather than patients and conditions,” said physician’s assistant Steven Hammond.

Hammond recalled one busy night in the emergency room, when nurses kept calling Thurston at home for advice, thinking he was the doctor on call. It was only after three such calls that Thurston casually mentioned that another doctor was on duty that night.

“He was a model physician, a teacher, and a man of great faith,” said Hammond. “He was a gift to this community.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo