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Garage closure sought

A firefighter peers out of the River Park Square parking garage on April 8 after  Jo Savage drove through the barricade and onto a ramp below. 
 (Liz Kishimoto / The Spokesman-Review)
A firefighter peers out of the River Park Square parking garage on April 8 after Jo Savage drove through the barricade and onto a ramp below. (Liz Kishimoto / The Spokesman-Review)

Citing a 2002 study that says the River Park Square parking garage is “in poor condition,” the family of a woman killed when her car plummeted from the structure’s fifth level is calling for the garage to be closed.

“Jo Savage’s family believe that her death need not have occurred and that there is a continuing significant risk of additional death and or injuries,” wrote attorney Robert W. Rembert, the Pullman attorney who is representing the family, in a letter to Mayor Dennis Hession.

Rembert asked the city or the garage owners to “take immediate action to close the garage, or at least the exterior portions of it.”

Reached Friday, he declined to comment beyond his letter, citing The Spokesman-Review’s ties to the Cowles Co., which owns the garage and the newspaper.

Jo Ellen Savage, a 62-year-old Pullman resident, was art director of Washington State University’s quarterly alumni magazine. On April 8, her Subaru crashed through a barrier on the garage and fell more than 50 feet onto a ramp in front of Post Street and Spokane Falls Boulevard.

A study that was commissioned by River Park Square following the crash is not complete, said mall spokeswoman Jennifer West.

Reports from 1996, 2002 and 2003 raised issues about the structural integrity of the garage.

A question remains whether problems identified in the reports have been fully addressed.

West said “a significant portion of (the recommendations made in the latest report) have been all or partly completed,” including recommended work on the barriers.

“There’s no question that a tragedy has happened, and there is a great deal of effort on behalf of the ownership to answer these questions,” she said.

The 1996 report, commissioned when the garage was about to be expanded, recommended $1.4 million in repairs to the existing garage, which opened in 1974.

Seven years later, however, a different report commissioned by the city indicated that most of the original recommendations were never completed and noted “significant reinforcing steel corrosion-related distress” occurring throughout the structure, including on the “precast spandrels.”

It was a spandrel that collapsed when it was hit by Savage’s Subaru. The spandrels are L-shaped barriers that are attached to the structure along the garage’s edges.

The original portion of the garage “is currently in poor condition,” wrote engineer Gregory Jacobson, of N.G. Jacobson & Associates of Seattle, in the 2002 report. “… Left unmaintained and unprotected, this garage will continue to deteriorate at an ever expanding rate and will at some time in the near future reach a damage level or threshold where repair and restoration may no longer be the most economical solution.”

A witness in a car parked two spaces from Savage told police that Savage was slowing down to park when her car “popped over the bump” and collided with the barrier, according to police reports. He said he saw the rear tires of her car in the air spinning and that he heard her screaming as her car began to tip. Another witness said Savage pulled into the spot “very slowly” but may have accidentally pushed the accelerator.

Hession said it appears that the city does not have the authority to shut down the garage because it is private property. He said the city has contacted River Park Square.

“They’ve indicated to us that they’ve hired a structural engineer to review it and ensured us that the public is safe,” said Hession, who witnessed the crash.

The April incident was the second time in 15 years that a barrier has collapsed on the garage.

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.

Tags: RPS crash