Autopsy set for pair found in car on I-5 after chase

Staff writerApril 5, 2011 

The family was rarely seen outside their two-story Spanaway home that often had its shades drawn and still is decorated for Christmas.

On Tuesday, in an upstairs bedroom of the home, Pierce County sheriff's deputies found the body of a 6-year-old boy wrapped in a blanket with a plastic bag around his head.

Deputies had gone to the 200 block of 178th Street Court East to check on young Jordan Stewart and his 10-year-old sister after his parents were found dead in a car following a high-speed police pursuit that ended near Tumwater.

After nearly an hour of searching, the girl was found safe with her biological father in Redmond, Ore.

Authorities believe Jordan’s father, David Stewart, turned a gun on himself after his car spun out on Interstate 5. The emaciated body of his wife, 38-year-old Kristy Sampels, was found in the passenger seat.

Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock said the two died from gunshot wounds to the head.

It’s unclear when Samples was shot, but authorities said her husband likely killed her.

A motive has not been established.

A Joint Base Lewis-McChord spokeswoman confirmed Stewart was an active-duty soldier assigned to the base but declined to provide further details.

Sampels was a nurse, according to records.

Tuesday’s 10-mile pursuit started about 6 a.m. when a Washington State Patrol trooper saw Stewart’s Ford Focus, traveling 85 miles per hour, zip past him on southbound I-5 in the Nisqually area.

The State Patrol used a spike strip to slow the speeding car but though the strip shredded the car’s driver side front and rear tires, Stewart sped up to 105 mph and eventually drove on just rims with “sparks shooting everywhere,” trooper Guy Gill said.

The car spun out near Tumwater Boulevard and crashed into a jersey barrier, blocking the southbound lanes for about two hours during the morning commute.

Gill said the trooper in pursuit of Stewart saw him raise his hand and fire a single round from a handgun, striking himself in the head before slumping over.

Sampels’ body was in the passenger seat. Though troopers initially saw no indication of how she died, the coroner later found a single gunshot wound.

“It was definitely a recent gunshot wound,” Warnock said. “Was she shot at her residence in Spanaway, or during the chase? That’s something we don’t know.”

Pierce County sheriff’s deputies were sent to the couple’s home to check on their children. That’s when Jordan’s body was found. Investigators cordoned off the house in the Breckenridge development where many military families live.

A snowman decoration sat on the porch. Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said there were several Christmas trees inside the house, which showed signs of destruction.

Furniture had been knocked over and televisions broken.

“The house was in disarray,” Troyer said. “It had been trashed inside.”

Neighbors said the family wasn’t often seen coming or going and their children rarely played with neighborhood kids.

Joann Barber-Smith said she’d noticed the family pulled their blinds shut about two weeks ago and neither of their vehicles had been driven.

“It was kind of odd and strange that I hadn’t seen them,” she said. “I wanted to go over there but I didn’t want to seem nosy.” Autopsies are planned today for the family.

Warnock said it’s clear Sampels suffered from a medical condition but had been unable to reach her doctor late Tuesday. Stewart mentioned on Facebook that his wife was undergoing stomach surgery.

He also makes reference to scheduling shoulder surgery, once being stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and serving in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which has deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

That could not be confirmed Tuesday.

“Stopped drinking for the most part, no heavy booze and only 2-3 beers every now and then. im also seeing the head shrinker to help level me out...” Stewart posted last April.

He also wrote several loving messages to his wife.

“Nothing is more important than family,” Stewart wrote on his Facebook page. “I feel blessed to have mine.”

Staff writers Rolf Boone, Rob Carson, Ian Swenson and Kate McEntee contributed to this report.

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