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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane motorcycle death was suicide, medical examiner says

May 29, 2015 Updated Fri., May 29, 2015 at 9:59 a.m.

Update: The Spokane Transit Authority provided Friday a list of their regulations regarding buses entering intersections. The full list of rules provided through a records request can be found at the following Sirens and Gavels blog post. The story has been updated to reflect fulfillment of the records request. Original story follows.

The death of a motorcyclist killed in a collision with a Spokane Transit Authority bus last week has been ruled a suicide.

Thomas Robert Dale Samples, 52, was wearing a helmet when he crashed into the bus at Crestline Street and Euclid Avenue just after 1:30 p.m on May 22. The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office said the collision, which shattered the windshield of the STA bus, damaged Samples’ heart and aorta.

Witnesses near the crash said bus passengers, who were traveling on the STA’s Hillyard route, tried to render aid before Samples died. A Medical Examiner’s Office spokeswoman declined to comment on what led the pathologist to determine that Samples committed suicide. The office has ruled deaths in other incidents involving motor vehicle collisions as accidental.

Spokane County spokeswoman Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter said the medical examiner is barred by law from releasing details of the investigation.

“It was thoroughly investigated and the determination on the manner of death was the result of the investigation and evidence,” Wheatley-Billeter said.

The Spokane Police Department took the lead in investigating the crash.

“We don’t have any of the information the medical examiner used to make that determination,” said Officer Teresa Fuller, police spokeswoman.

Police said earlier this week that Samples ran a red light when he was struck by the bus, which had entered the intersection on a yellow light. There is a turn lane, but no turn signal, at the intersection. STA’s written procedures for entering an intersection contain multiple references to anticipating traffic signal changes by looking at walk signs, but there’s no explicit instruction on how to handle yellow lights. The policies were provided through a records request filed by The Spokesman-Review.

The crash was not the first fatality crash involving an STA bus, according to Spokesman-Review archives. In 1999, a woman died when her husband passed out while driving and crashed into a bus at Division Street and Country Homes Boulevard. In 1997, a drunken driver slammed a pickup into a bus in Spokane Valley. The driver’s girlfriend, who was a passenger in the truck, died.

STA officials said they believe Samples’ death is the first fatal accident involving one of its buses. Spokane police still are investigating the crash, and ask anyone with information who has not come forward to contact Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

Samples was born in San Diego, California, in 1963 and moved to Moses Lake in 1968 after his father died, according to an obituary recently filed with Kayser’s Chapel & Crematory in Moses Lake. He moved around frequently as an adult, most recently living in Spokane.

Samples worked as a mechanic, welder and tattoo artist, was a devout Christian, and created various forms of art, including a novel he was working to publish, the obituary says. He also loved riding and working on his motorcycle, which he named “Piglet.”

Samples is survived by a daughter, Penelope; and sisters Gladys Shirey, of Spokane, Catherine Conley, of Moses Lake, and Roberta Samples, of Grants Pass, Oregon, the obituary says. A funeral is scheduled for Saturday morning at Guarding Angels Cemetery in Moses Lake.

Staff reporter Chad Sokol and staff editor Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.
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