May 6, 2006 in City

River Park Square executive confident garage is safe

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The chief executive of River Park Square said Friday that he is confident the garage is safe.

However, nearly a month after a woman died when her car plunged from the garage’s fifth floor, Robert Smith said he could not guarantee that it wouldn’t happen again if a car hit one of the barriers at low speeds. And a study that could answer that question definitively is only now beginning.

“You’re asking a question that I can’t answer,” Smith said.

“Let me put it this way: My wife and children, if they wanted to shop at River Park Square, which they do quite often, have no qualms, and I have no qualms about them parking in the River Park Square garage.”

Smith said his confidence in the garage’s safety is based on a 2003 engineering report, the city’s certificate of occupancy issued in 2001 and inspections of the garage done after Jo Ellen Savage’s death on April 8.

The 62-year-old Pullman resident died shortly after her Subaru hit a barrier that gave way. Witnesses told police she pulled into the spot slowly when the incident happened. It’s unclear whether a security video from the garage will shed light on how the accident occurred. That video, which has not been made public, is in the hands of Safeco Insurance, which insures the garage. It was viewed by police during their investigation of the fall.

River Park Square is owned by the Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Last week, an attorney representing Savage’s family wrote Mayor Dennis Hession and asked him to close the garage or portions of it. On Wednesday, Hession ordered that a hearing be held May 17 to determine if the garage is safe for public use. At this point, he said, he has no proof that it is dangerous.

Hession said he ordered the meeting because River Park Square officials had not provided the city with information about the garage’s condition. Smith told Hession and a city building official on the day of the incident that River Park Square likely would hire a firm to perform an engineering study.

As it turns out, that engineering study is just now beginning.

Smith acknowledged discussing the study with city officials but said there was no talk of deadlines. And the city, to his knowledge, never asked for anything to be turned over to officials, Smith said.

Hession said Friday that he thought River Park Square had agreed to turn over information.

“It was my understanding that they were going to do that, but I’m not here to call him a liar,” Hession said.

The mayor also said, based on conversations he had April 8, that he felt the mall’s investigation would be well under way by now.

But after preliminary talks in previous weeks, River Park Square only formally hired Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates this week to complete a thorough review of the incident. The firm will visit the garage for the first time next week.

Part of the mall’s delay in getting a thorough review occurred because the first firm River Park Square hired, just days after the accident, was soon retained by Safeco Insurance, which insures the garage, Smith said.

River Park Square decided to get an independent study.

“We’re deeply concerned and we care about what happened that day. But what we wanted to do was make sure that when we got this report that we were going to get a good, accurate report of the situation,” Smith said. “There’s been too much speculation already. Let’s get back to reality and stop the speculation.

“The reports are going to be coming. When we have the reports we’ll have something that’s concrete to look at.”


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