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RPS report released

Tue., May 9, 2006, midnight

Results of a Spokane police investigation into a fatal River Park Square garage accident appear to support statements made by witnesses that the victim was pulling slowly into a parking space when her car bumped the barrier and fell from the fifth story.

The front of the Subaru, which hit a barrier called a spandrel, sustained only minor damage, including scuff marks on the front bumper and slight damage under the bumper cover, according to the report released Monday.

“I noted the passenger side headlight was not broken and had what appeared to be a pink paint transfer on it,” wrote officer Glenn Bartlett of the police traffic unit, who inspected the car at a tow yard.

Jo Ellen Savage, 62, was parking on the garage’s fifth floor – the pink level – on April 8 when her 1996 Subaru hit a spandrel, went over the edge and landed upside down. She died from “blunt force trauma” to her head, chest and abdomen soon after the fall.

Tara and David McLaughlin, who were parked two spaces from Savage, have said Savage was traveling slowly.

“I thought this contact would simply result in a minor ‘fender-bender,’ ” Tara McLaughlin said in testimony provided by Robert Rembert, the attorney representing Savage’s son, Jesse Savage. “When her vehicle contacted the retaining wall, however, it immediately began to collapse.”

In the aftermath, Rembert has called on the city to close the garage, and Mayor Dennis Hession has ordered that a hearing be held May 17 to determine if the garage is safe for public use. Mall officials have said they will cooperate.

River Park Square spokeswoman Jennifer West said she didn’t want to speculate on the report and noted that Safeco Insurance, which covers the garage, is investigating the accident. River Park Square has hired an engineering firm to perform a separate inquiry into the garage’s safety.

“I’m certainly not willing to speculate even though there might be others who are,” River Park Square CEO Robert Smith said in an interview last week. “We want to get to the truth.”

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

Another witness of the crash interviewed by Bartlett said Savage was going “a little too fast” but was not driving recklessly when she turned to pull into the spot, according to the report.

Bartlett wrote that there were no recalls of the car by Subaru and said technicians inspected it and found nothing wrong with its brakes and no other mechanical defects.

A friend of Savage’s told Bart-lett she did not know of any health problems that Savage had that could have led to the fall. The report indicates Savage was wearing a seat belt.

The report also indicates that a mall security tape was not helpful to police. The report said that Bartlett attempted to have the tape copied. Cpl. Tom Lee, Spokane Police spokesman, said that effort was abandoned after police viewed it.

“Our people looked at it and said this is absolutely useless to us,” Lee said.

The tape was turned over to Safeco Insurance at the request of Cowles Co. attorney Duane Swinton, the report said.

Bartlett said the tape, which has gaps of one to three seconds between images, shows Savage starting to pull into the parking space. However, parked cars obstruct the view of the crash. He also reported that he could not determine from the tape if the Subaru’s brake lights were on.

West said River Park Square has inquired of Safeco if the tape could be released to media outlets. A decision about the tape’s release will be made after Savage family attorneys view the video, which could happen as early as this week, West said.

Tags: RPS crash

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