May 13, 2006 in City

Eugster wants grand jury to probe fatal fall at garage

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane attorney Steve Eugster wants a grand jury to investigate whether any criminal charges should be brought in the fatal plunge of a car out of the River Park Square garage.

Eugster, a former Spokane city councilman who said he was acting as a concerned citizen, sent a letter Friday to County Prosecutor Steve Tucker and the county’s Superior Court judges, requesting a grand jury be convened.

In the April 8 accident, Jo Ellen Savage of Pullman was killed when her Subaru plunged from the fifth floor of the garage deck onto the entry ramp below. A concrete barrier at the end of the parking space, known as a spandrel, gave way after it was struck by the car.

A recent report by Spokane police concluded that Savage’s car was not traveling at a high rate of speed when it struck the barrier.

“Her death would not have happened if those in control of the garage had taken action to protect people parking in the garage from accidentally hitting a parking deck wall and going off a garage parking deck,” Eugster wrote in his letter asking for the grand jury investigation.

State law allows a county prosecutor or the Superior Court judges to empanel a grand jury, which could subpoena witnesses and require them to testify under oath. But it is a rarely used procedure in Washington state, where most criminal cases are investigated by police and referred to the prosecutor’s office to decide whether charges should be filed.

“It’s rare because (Spokane) is asleep,” Eugster said in an interview.

During the city’s ongoing legal battles over the financial problems of the garage, Eugster tried unsuccessfully to have county prosecutors empanel a grand jury to investigate issues surrounding that controversy.

Eugster said Friday that this request is different.

“We’re not talking about financial stuff. We’re talking about the death of a human being,” he said. “I’m not suggesting any person is responsible. The only way to determine whether this was criminal negligence is to investigate it.”

Tucker did not return calls to his office asking for a comment on the grand jury request, and Eugster said he does not expect the prosecutor to agree – at least not immediately.

“I don’t think Mr. Tucker is going to do anything on his own,” Eugster said. “I think he might do something if he starts feeling the pressure. Isn’t this an election year?”

Tucker is among county officials facing election in the fall.

Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to determine if the garage is safe, and the garage owners said they will cooperate with that hearing. Company representatives said late Friday they hadn’t seen Eugster’s request for a grand jury.

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

“This information is so new, we have yet to receive or review it and are therefore not in any position to comment,” Bob Smith, the garage’s chief executive, said. “But what I can tell you (is) that the River Park Square parking garage is safe.”


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