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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Detectives look into lawsuits involving Jan. 1 shooting victim

Detectives have expanded the criminal investigation into the fatal shooting of a North Spokane mother to include two civil lawsuits naming the victim.

Each lawsuit involves separate scuba diving accidents; one left a man dead and another allegedly left a woman with brain damage.

Although no arrests have been made in the homicide case, Spokane County sheriff’s Detective Mike Drapeau said he is waiting on evidence to come back from the state crime lab and that investigators have focused on an individual who had been romantically involved with 34-year-old Kimberly R. Schmidt. She was discovered dead Jan. 1 with a gunshot wound to her head.

“There were two (persons of interest) who are related to her in some fashion. But he’s probably the only one right now,” Drapeau said, referring to the suspect who has been interviewed but not charged.

As part of the probe, detectives are looking into two civil lawsuits that name Schmidt and dive instructor Daniel R. Arteaga, who both worked part time for the Scuba Center of Spokane.

The most recent lawsuit was filed Wednesday by Spokane civil attorney Bob Dunn on behalf of Kimela Wyssman, who claims to have suffered brain damage and emotional distress after she had to be resuscitated following a dive with Schmidt and Arteaga on March 28, 2010.

Arteaga and Schmidt were notified about the pending suit two and a half weeks before Schmidt was found dead. Schmidt was expected to be a key witness in the case.

“We wanted the sheriff’s deputies to know these puzzle pieces, that we served the demand letter and a draft complaint … on Dec. 13,” Dunn said. “Then she was found dead on New Year’s Day.”

Scuba Center of Spokane part-owner Gordon J. Mankin, who is also named in the suit, said Thursday he was unaware of the latest lawsuit.

Arteaga “doesn’t work for us on a full-time basis. He just teaches a few classes,” said Mankin, who declined further comment. Efforts to reach Arteaga this week were unsuccessful.

Schmidt’s mother found Schmidt dead in her home at 37 E. Regina Ave. on Jan. 1. A lamp had been knocked over and detectives found blood smeared on the wall near the head of the bed, which indicated she had been moved.

Detectives seized a cloth drawstring bag with a gun barrel sticking out. Drapeau said he believes a .25-caliber semi-automatic handgun was the homicide weapon, but he has to wait for the lab to confirm it.

Schmidt’s mother, Toni Schmidt, declined to comment on the lawsuits or the criminal investigation Friday, but she and her husband, Randall Schmidt, said they remain confident the case will be solved. Toni Schmidt said her daughter loved the ocean and was planning to scuba dive in Manila, Philippines, on a business trip next month.

It’s unclear how long Kimberly Schmidt worked for Scuba Center of Spokane, which agreed in November to make a confidential payment in a 2008 lawsuit filed by Maureen Maher-Gray, the widow of Spokane insurance executive John W. Gray. He was 53 when he died on a training dive with Arteaga and Schmidt on March 29, 2008.

The Grays took part in the training dive directed by Arteaga as part of a program to receive their diving certification from Scuba Center of Spokane.

After experiencing trouble on his first dive, John Gray took part in a second dive in Hood Canal. During one of the descents, Gray became separated from the group. A third-party diver – not one of the instructors – found Gray not breathing.

According to the suit, Arteaga, Schmidt and Mankin were unaware Gray was missing until they surfaced and saw rescue efforts to resuscitate him.

In the separate Wyssman suit, filed this week, Wyssman claimed that she similarly had progressed through the dive instructions from Scuba Center of Spokane and took part in a dive on March 28, 2010, in King County.

The group of divers went about 40 or 50 feet down into the water, which had very poor visibility.

“As the group was getting their bearings, it was noted by several student divers that Defendant Arteaga had disappeared,” the suit states.

Prior to diving deeper, Wyssman began having trouble with water in her mask and was unable to keep her breathing apparatus in her mouth. Schmidt, who dove with the group as a dive control specialist, noticed Wyssman’s trouble, released her weights and “shot” her to the surface.

Before Schmidt could get Wyssman to shore, she lost consciousness.

“Once Defendant Schmidt removed Ms. Wyssman from the water, resuscitation efforts were initiated,” the suit states.

As in the Gray case, Arteaga apparently had no knowledge of the emergency and again became aware of the problem only after he saw efforts to resuscitate Wyssman.

“It was at this point that Defendant Arteaga instructed the rest of the students not to speak to any of the news crews that were showing up and to avoid allowing themselves to be identified and/or filmed,” the suit states.

Reporter Meghann Cuniff contributed to this report.
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