April 11, 2006 in City

Weekend accident not the first at RPS garage, but still a mystery

By and The Spokesman-Review
Kathryn Stevens photo

Heather Unher gets into a car on the fifth floor of the River Park Square parking garage on Sunday across from the barricades put up after Jo Savage’s car crashed through a concrete barrier.
(Full-size photo)

Fast Fact


Since the 1990s, building codes required concrete barriers in parking garages to withstand the impact of 6,000 pounds of force.

Last weekend wasn’t the first time that the concrete walls of River Park Square’s parking garage have been breached by a car.

In March 1991, a driver accelerated into the concrete barrier on the fourth floor of the garage, sending chunks of the wall falling onto the street below.

No one was injured in that incident.

Last Saturday, a Pullman woman’s car crashed through one of the barriers on the fifth floor. Jo Savage, 62, died three hours after her 1996 Subaru Legacy plummeted to the ground.

The crash occurred in roughly the same location as the 1991 accident, directly above Post Street and Spokane Falls Boulevard.

The garage was built in 1973 by real estate affiliates of Cowles Co., which also publishes The Spokesman-Review. In the late 1990s, engineers added two levels and expanded the garage as part of the River Park Square mall redevelopment project, also a project of Cowles Co. affiliates.

Karl Kolb, a structural engineer for the company that handled the expansion of River Park Square, said it’s not clear what would have caused the concrete barrier to give way. Each section of barrier is 9 feet wide, 5 inches thick and more than 30 inches high.

Since the 1990s, building codes required those barriers to withstand the impact of 6,000 pounds of force, said Kolb, an engineer with Coffman Engineers of Spokane.

Kolb added that the original barrier design of the first seven floors of the garage may have been required to meet different codes. Coffman had nothing to do with the original design of the first seven floors, he said.

Paul Nowak, dean of Gonzaga University’s School of Engineering, said it is difficult to calculate the speed a driver would need to smash through the concrete barriers.

“It’s a very complex issue, with lots of variables, including the weight of the barrier and the direction the car hit the barrier,” said Nowak.

Officer Glenn Bartlett of the department’s traffic unit has been assigned the investigation, which will include examining the car and re-interviewing witnesses.

A Carfax.com check using the vehicle’s identification number revealed that the Subaru had no recalls, accidents, or anything pointing to mechanical failure.

Police are pursing the investigation as if it were a fatal traffic crash, Spokane Police spokesman Cpl. Tom Lee said. But the difference between this investigation and most other fatal crashes is there’s no criminal activity suspected.

It was just a bizarre crash, Lee said.

“At least one witness, said they heard her (Savage) screaming,” he said.

Savage’s autopsy revealed blunt force trauma, as was expected due to the crash, but the exact cause of death was not determined, police said Monday.

The medical examiner now plans to review Savage’s medical records, Lee said. Details on funeral arrangements weren’t available Monday.

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