The Spokane veterans hospital community is grieving for a beloved employee who died after being assaulted while trying to break up an underage drinking party.
Frank James Motta, a retired high school principal, teacher and football coach, began volunteering at the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2009 and was hired as a patient advocate four months ago. His wife, Virginia, and daughter, Jami, also volunteer there.
Motta was attacked by a partygoer while trying to break up a large gathering at his neighbor’s house. The neighbor was out of town and had asked Motta to clear out the party, thrown by her teenage son. Motta died Thursday night at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, friends confirmed.
Suspect Treven Lewis, 18, is in jail on an assault charge, though that will likely be upgraded to a murder charge in light of Motta’s death. Witnesses told police he pushed Motta to the ground and punched him in the head after Motta nudged Lewis’ girlfriend while telling her and other guests to leave.
As Motta fought for his life Thursday, friends and co-workers described him as a man always ready to help others.
“What has happened is unconscionable, and in this really difficult hour we want to stand united for Frank and family and let them know we care and we are there for him,” Sunil Wadhwani, acting associate medical center director, said during a press conference at the veterans hospital Thursday.
Motta “is one of the staff that serves as a role model to others,” Wadhwani said.
“He just wants to do the right thing by the veteran. Whatever it takes,” Wadhwani said. “He has compassion for others, and we don’t understand why things of this nature occur to good people.”
Motta was a 65-year-old Air Force veteran who fought in the Vietnam War.
The assault at his neighbor’s home in the 11800 block of North Bedivere Drive in north Spokane County occurred Saturday about 9:50 p.m. Two Spokane County sheriff’s deputies were also at the home in response to a 911 call.
Deputies said Motta told them he’d talked to the homeowner and knew the teen throwing the party. He had the code to the garage and went inside to tell the 100 to 150 people at the house to leave.
Deputies stood outside the home and learned of the attack from exiting witnesses. Sheriff’s officials say they weren’t authorized to enter the home. Spokane County officials on Thursday declined to release the 911 call from the homeowner that led deputies to the address, citing the ongoing assault investigation.
Wadhwani said Motta always did his best to help others, “and it seems that is exactly what he has done.”
He said staff members at the VA hospital have many unanswered questions.
“All folks at this organization are interested in making sure justice is served,” he said. “People just want to know why is Frank in the position he is in at this hour when all he did was he was serving as a good Samaritan, and he’s a good man.”
Motta taught and coached football at Othello High School when Charles Regalado, now a Spokane Valley dentist, graduated from there in 1979. The two stayed in touch, and when Motta moved back to the area after retiring from education in California a couple years ago, he made a dental appointment with Regalado.
“He’s just a fantastic guy. I love him so much,” Regalado said.
Regalado said Motta was a tough, smart football coach and a great mentor who always pushed him to do his best.
Regalado said Motta even attended Regalado’s son’s sporting events and kept up on his accomplishments.
“He would be excited as if it was his own kid,” Regalado said. “He would call just to congratulate my son for a great game.”
Regalado said Motta’s sincerity affected people.
“He loves me and you can tell it,” he said. “You just know it’s a sincere love, and I just think that’s how he was with people. He’s just sweet.”
Wadhwani said Motta applied to be the hospital’s patient advocate because he wanted to do more for veterans.
In that role, he worked with veterans who may have been upset with their service or were having difficulty at this hospital. He coordinated with all areas of the hospital to solve patient problems and help ensure they got the best service.
“Frank does a great job,” Wadhwani said. “He’s an emphatic listener.
“He shows compassion, care and respect for our veterans in his interactions with them on a day-to-day basis.”
Hospital administrators were struck by his smile.
“He is one of those kinds of guys that just makes you feel good,” said Carla Lippert, the hospital’s chief of volunteer services. “He was just very, very committed to the veterans we serve.”
Motta and his wife often brought in food for staff and patients, like baked goods or enchiladas.
Lippert and Wadhwani consider Motta a personal friend. Lippert said his death is devastating to the hospital community.
“We need him,” Lippert said. “He’s had an impact on probably every employee in this hospital.”