First they heard the crush of metal. Then came the screams.
“It was a horrific sound – a lot of metal and concrete,” said Staci Andreas, who parked her car shortly after noon on the pink level of the River Park Square garage. “People were screaming. I thought the building was collapsing.”
Fifty feet away from her parking space, a dark blue Subaru Outback had just knocked down a concrete wall, plunging five stories to the ground below.
“I heard a big crash, then a tire squealing like she didn’t let off the gas,” said Andreas’ husband, Rick. “Then there was the screeching of the chain link fence as the car went over.”
They didn’t see the driver. “By the time I looked, she had already gone over the edge,” said Rick Andreas.
The crash led to the death of Jo E. Savage, a 62-year-old Pullman resident.
She was breathing but unconscious when help arrived at 12:15 p.m., just a few minutes after the car plummeted, said Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer of the Spokane Fire Department.
Savage’s station wagon landed upside down at the top of the garage’s entrance ramp on Spokane Falls Boulevard, trapping her inside.
It took 30 minutes to remove her from the wreckage, Schaeffer said. She was listed in critical condition when the ambulance transported her to Sacred Heart Medical Center. She died at 3:25 p.m., according to Cpl. Tom Lee of the Spokane Police Department.
“The vehicle had apparently left the fifth floor of the parking garage with enough velocity to break through the building’s outermost reinforced concrete barrier and plummet to the landing below,” Schaeffer said.
Shortly after the accident, a solid piece of concrete remained hanging from the building as passers-by flocked to the scene. It was removed about 5:15 p.m.
Several witnesses, including Mayor Dennis Hession – who heard the crash from across the street at City Hall’s parking lot – called 911. Hession said he and others ran up the ramp to try to help. Even though Savage appeared unconscious, they talked to her and assured her that help was on the way.
The car was a mangled mess of metal after it hit the ramp. Although paramedics were able to immediately treat Savage, firefighters were forced to spend half an hour using hydraulic rescue tools to remove her from the wreckage.
Savage was wearing a seatbelt, and the Subaru’s airbags had deployed, Schaeffer said. The car had automatic transmission.
The extrication was especially difficult for rescue workers because a large block of concrete – about 5 inches thick, 3 feet tall and 9 feet long – dangled above them, attached to the building by rebar.
The cause of the fall is still under investigation. It was not known late Saturday whether the victim suffered from any medical conditions, Schaeffer said.
Police cordoned off several blocks of Spokane Falls Boulevard, from Wall Street to Lincoln Street, as they removed the car from the parking garage’s on-ramp and secured the area. The garage was reopened by Saturday evening.
River Park Square and the garage are owned by real estate affiliates of Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review.