A former Pend Oreille County sheriff believes manslaughter charges should be filed in connection with the death of a woman whose car plunged from the River Park Square parking garage last year.
Jo Ellen Savage, 62, died after her car hit a barrier and fell from the structure’s fifth floor on April 8, 2006. Witnesses reported that her car was moving slowly when it hit a wall panel, which collapsed.
Tony Bamonte has sent letters and other information relating to the incident to Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich urging an investigation. He accuses the city of bypassing inspection rules “in favor of the financial interests” of the Cowles family and cites engineering reports from 1996 and 2003 that are sharply critical of the garage’s condition.
River Park Square is owned by the Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.
“I strongly feel that there is exceptional probable cause and strong evidence to charge one or more persons with manslaughter in the first degree for the death of Jo Ellen Savage,” Bamonte wrote in his three-page letter.
Cowles Co. chairwoman Betsy Cowles called Bamonte’s letter “ludicrous and outrageous.” She referred questions to attorney Bill Symmes, who said Bamonte’s letter displays “reckless disregard to the actual truth.”
Symmes said the garage was inspected and that the crash was “fully investigated.” He also pointed to an engineering report from Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, which was hired by River Park Square to examine the garage.
That report says that the panels in the older section of the garage, where Savage’s car fell, met the standards of the building code that was in place when it was built, even if many of them didn’t meet standards in place for construction in 2006.
The garage walls have since been upgraded to meet current building codes.
Last year, Safeco, which insured the garage, reached a settlement with the Savage family. Details of the agreement have not been released by either party.
Robert Rembert, who represented Savage’s family in the settlement, declined to comment on Bamonte’s letter.
Kirkpatrick said Thursday that she has turned Bamonte’s materials over to the FBI because the case involves allegations related to city government. She said handing the case to the FBI is the most transparent option.
“We’re out of it, and it’s in the hands of the FBI,” Kirkpatrick said.
Bamonte said Thursday he disagrees with the decision to turn the case over to the FBI and believes Knezovich should take the case.
“To really give the public confidence, that’s where it needs to be handled, by our sheriff, who the public has confidence in,” Bamonte said.
Former City Councilman Steve Eugster, who last year requested that a grand jury be convened to investigate the case, said he doesn’t expect anything to come from an FBI investigation. Eugster’s request was denied by the Spokane Superior Court and county Prosecutor Steve Tucker.
“In my opinion, that’s just a brushoff,” Eugster said about passing the case to the FBI. “It’s not a federal offense.”