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Investigation set for garage fall

Police investigators will begin searching for answers today into what caused a 62-year-old woman in a station wagon to plummet five stories to her death from a downtown Spokane parking garage Saturday.

A team of structural engineers also is being brought in by the garage owner to examine the steel-reinforced concrete wall that was knocked out, allowing Jo Savage to drive her Subaru over the edge shortly after noon. Savage, of Pullman, was pronounced dead three hours later.

Savage was a longtime employee of Washington State University, where she was art director of the university’s quarterly alumni magazine.

A co-worker said he was not aware that Savage had any health problems that might have led to her losing control of the car.

“She seemed in perfect health,” said Tim Steury, who had worked with Savage for the past 16 years and last saw her as they walked to their parked cars after work Thursday. Savage had talked about spending the weekend in Seattle but decided instead to stay closer to home.

“She was in good spirits,” Steury said.

The River Park Square parking garage was open as usual Sunday except for a floor-to-ceiling plywood barrier and a fence wrapped around the hole. Four parking spots on each side of the hole also were cordoned off.

Bob Smith, general manager of River Park Square, said the parking garage is inspected on a regular basis. He said he did not know if the broken section was from a renovation project conducted in 1999. Structural engineers have not had a chance to examine the site, he said.

Workers cut the rebar holding the broken section of concrete, allowing them to remove the 9-foot-wide section. The piece is being stored at a secure yard for further investigation, Smith said.

The 5-inch-thick slab of concrete appeared to have broken where it met the floor of the garage. But before striking the wall, Savage’s station wagon would have first needed the speed or power to drive over a 6-inch-tall ledge.

The parking garage is owned by real estate affiliates of Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review.

Little is publicly known about what might have caused the accident at the parking garage, but a better picture has emerged about Savage. Steury, the editor of Washington State Magazine, said Savage lived alone but had a son in California and other family in Lewiston.

Savage loved the outdoors and was an accomplished gardener, Steury said. She was involved in several civic causes, including serving as a leader on the university’s arboretum committee.

Savage had been with the university since she earned a master of fine arts degree there in 1970. Last week, Steury was in the process of writing an annual job performance review for Savage.

“There just wasn’t enough good I could say about her,” Steury said. “I really don’t know how we’re going to put out a magazine without her.”

Steury added that Savage always seemed to be a careful driver.

“I’d driven with her. There aren’t many people I feel safe driving with. She was one of them.”

Details were not yet available on funeral arrangements for Savage.