February 17, 2007 in City

Rathdrum man files suit over wife’s 2004 suicide

By The Spokesman-Review

Christa Yount jumped to her death three years ago on Valentine’s Day.

Now her husband, David Yount, is suing the Spokane Valley dentist he says is responsible.

“He feels his wife died as a direct result of a guy’s manipulation and control of a vulnerable woman,” said Yount’s attorney, Larry Kuznetz.

The lawsuit filed this week says Christa Yount, a Rathdrum resident, ended her life just hours after her employer, Dr. Robert Wendel, ended their affair and fired her, on his wife’s orders.

Yount wasn’t available for comment. Kuznetz said he’s still emotional about his wife’s suicide.

The Spokane County Superior Court lawsuit, which names Wendel and his wife, Michele, as defendants, alleges that Wendel insisted on a relationship with a woman the suit describes as fragile and emotionally unstable. It contends that Yount was sexually harassed, suffered emotional distress and feared losing her job.

“They were in a financial crunch,” Kuznetz said. “He had her in a box.”

Wendel could not be reached for comment.

Yount was an Idaho native who attended Lakeland High School. She was Rathdrum’s first Junior Miss and participated in numerous beauty pageants, according to her obituary. David and Christa Yount were married for 15 years. He had been her high school sweetheart.

Before Christa Yount killed herself in 2004 at the age of 35, she, her husband and their three children lived in Rathdrum, Kuznetz said.

In September 2001, Christa Yount went to work for Wendel as a receptionist. Soon after, Wendel used his position “as owner and supervisor to create, foster and promote a sexual relationship” with Yount, the lawsuit says.

Wendel gave Yount gifts – such as clothing, flowers and access to credit cards – promoted her to office manager and gave her raises, all in exchange for sexual favors, Kuznetz contends. Wendel knew Yount could not afford to lose her job because of financial difficulties that she and her husband experienced while building their dream home overlooking Twin Lakes.

The suit alleges Wendel made physical advances to Yount despite knowing she was “mentally and emotionally unstable, depressed, fragile, susceptible and easily manipulated and controlled in her mental state.” According to the lawsuit, Yount tried to end the relationship several times.

When Michele Wendel found out about the relationship, she told her husband to end it, the lawsuit alleges. When Wendel’s wife later learned it had continued, she demanded that Yount be fired.

On the morning of Feb. 14, 2004, Wendel called Yount and told her she had to immediately leave, the lawsuit alleges.

At 3:30 p.m. that day, Yount, “distraught with the loss of her job,” ended her life by jumping off Veterans Memorial Centennial Bridge on Interstate 90 near Coeur d’Alene, according to the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office. She was killed immediately by the 300-foot fall.

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