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Victims in crash with IT bus were riding new motorcycle, sister says

The King County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the second victim in Sunday’s collision as Tammi Small of Olympia.

Small, 44, and her boyfriend, Roger Smith, 42, of Tacoma died when their motorcycle collided with an Intercity Transit bus shortly after 9 a.m. at the intersection of Central Street and Ethridge Avenue in north Olympia.

Small lived with her brother, Robert Small, her sister, April Fisher, and Fisher’s son, Jordan, in a home three blocks from the accident scene.

Smith, who had experience riding motorcycles, had purchased it Saturday and driven to see Small that night. The couple left that morning for a ride and likely to get breakfast, Fisher said.

“It’s just a tragedy,” she said.

Small and Fisher worked as hostesses during special events at the Schmidt House in Tumwater. Small was employed with the catering staff at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.

Fisher said Small was a great cook, and she would joke with her sister that one day she would open a restaurant.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Smith died at the scene. Small was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and died there.

The Thurston County Coroner’s Office released Smith’s name Sunday afternoon after his next of kin was notified. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office released Small’s name this afternoon after completing an autopsy, per its policy.

The office did not identify Small’s hometown, saying its policy forbids the release of that information to protect the privacy of family members.

Based on his preliminary investigation, Randall Wilson, the department’s traffic investigator, gave the following details this afternoon:

The 50-year-old female bus operator did stop before proceeding northbound on Central Street through the intersection.

The motorcycle, driven by Smith, was heading eastbound on Ethridge Avenue. There are stops signs on Central but not on Ethridge at the intersection.

Scrapes on the pavement indicate Smith intentionally or unintentionally laid down the bike on its left side 70 to 75 feet before the point of impact. Based on the distance, Wilson said there’s a “good possibility” Smith was exceeding the 25 mph speed limit, although an exact speed is unknown. Wilson said he talked with three witnesses today who said they believed Smith was exceeding the speed limit.

The motorcycle struck the bus in front of the left front tire, with the bike between the riders and the tire. There’s an indication Smith then was run over by a rear tire. As the bus continued forward, the woman’s clothing caught on the undercarriage around the middle of the bus, and she was dragged until the vehicle stopped. The wreckage of the motorcycle was jammed in the front wheel-well.

Meg Kester, spokeswoman for Intercity Transit, said Sunday the bus operator drove the route frequently and was familiar with the intersection.

The operator looked both ways before proceeding, Kester said, but added vegetation near the southwest corner of the intersection obscured a portion of her view.

“Clearly, she just did not see that motorcycle,” Kester said.

Wilson continues to investigate how the vegetation may have contributed to the collision.

“I would say that it is a possible factor, but I don’t know how significant a factor it is at this point,” Wilson said.

The collision report will be finalized in a couple of weeks, he added.

Original story:

The peace of a Sunday morning was shattered for residents of a north Olympia neighborhood by the sounds of scraping metal, a deadly impact and screams.

Two people died when their motorcycle collided with an Intercity Transit bus shortly after 9 a.m. It was the first fatal collision involving an IT bus in about a decade, an agency spokeswoman said.

Then late Sunday night, another IT bus was involved in a serious accident, IT spokeswoman Meg Kester said.

About 8:20 p.m., a bus was turning left off Friendly Grove Road onto 26th Avenue in northeast Olympia, when it collided with a red Honda Civic going eastbound. The driver of the Civic was taken to a hospital, Washington State Patrol trooper Lucas Brandon said.

One bus rider was taken to a hospital with minor injuries. The other passenger and the Route 21 bus driver were not injured.

Kester said the accident was only six to eight blocks from the one earlier in the day.

2 on motorcycle die

After hearing the collision and screams Sunday morning, neighbors rushed from their homes to find a mortally wounded man lying facedown in the middle of the intersection of Central Street and Ethridge Avenue.

The scene became more horrific when they discovered an injured woman was still underneath the front of the bus, the wreckage of the motorcycle jammed in its front wheel-well. Both had been wearing helmets; the woman's helmet was found lying in the intersection.

"I think we're all kind of shaken today ... It's just sad for everybody," said Cheryl Nizam, whose lives at the corner of the intersection with her husband, Ahmer.

The male driver of the motorcycle died at the scene. He was identified as Roger Smith, 42, of Tacoma.

The female passenger, also in her 40s, was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and died there. The King County Medical Examiner's Office would not release her name, pending the outcome of an autopsy today.

The intersection was closed for several hours as investigators gathered information to piece together what led to the collision. They released few details Sunday.

Neighbors said the bus was northbound on Central Street when it collided with the eastbound Harley-Davidson motorcycle on Ethridge. There's a stop sign on Central but not Ethridge.

"It sounded like a garbage truck, a huge metal sound," Nizam said.

Surveying the crash scene, Jerica Burgess, 30, who lives nearby, wondered if the intersection played a role.

Motorists heading northbound on Central must inch forward after stopping to identify eastbound traffic on Ethridge because vegetation reduces the sight distance.

"Since I've been a kid, it's been a very bad intersection," she said.

The 50-year-old female IT driver was not injured, and no one else was aboard the bus, which had just started service for the day, Kester said. She declined to release the driver's name.

The driver was interviewed by Intercity Transit's safety officer and director of operations and underwent alcohol and drug testing, a routine procedure in serious or fatal collisions, Kester said. The results should be available today. The operator will be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation by IT's insurer.

Kester said the operator is considered a "very good driver" with 12 years of experience behind the wheel -- nine years with the Rainier School District and three with IT.

The driver also was involved in what Kester characterized as a "relatively minor" IT bus collision with an automobile in December, Kester said. No one was injured. The spokeswoman said she didn't know who was determined to be at fault in that collision.

"The driver is extremely shaken and very concerned about the individuals involved and, of course, their families," Kester said.

The last fatal collision involving IT occurred July 3, 1999, when Sophith Vong of Olympia struck a bus head-on while driving on Yelm Highway. Vong's 4-year-old grandson also died.

Olympia police are looking for witnesses to Sunday's collision; call traffic investigator Randall Wilson at 360-753-8785.

Christian Hill covers Lacey and the military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or at chill@theolympian.com.

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