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Couple killed in crash were on first ride on new cycle

Roger Smith bought a new motorcycle Saturday and later drove it from Tacoma to Olympia to see his girlfriend, Tammi Small.

"He was excited to show her," April Fisher, Small's sister, said Monday. "And it didn't last that long. Short-lived happiness."

Five blocks into their first ride Sunday morning, Smith, 42, and Small, 44, suffered fatal injuries when they collided with an Intercity Transit bus at the intersection of Central Street Northeast and Ethridge Avenue Northeast in Olympia.

Small had moved into Fisher's home on Eastside Street Northeast a month ago, and Small and Smith had left that morning, probably to get breakfast, her sister said.

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

Small's death continues a string of losses for the family.

In August, their mother, Ernestine Small, died and their other sister, Dawn Small, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, although Fisher said she's doing well. In August 2006, they suffered the death of their brother, Michael Small, from kidney failure.

"It's just very, very tough," Fisher said, sitting in her living room.

"Every year, it's someone and something. We're just trying to keep the faith."

Small, divorced and a mother of sons ages 18 and 23, had been in a relationship with Smith for about six years, Fisher said.

"At least they were together," she said. "I don't know if either one of them could have survived without the other one."

Small and Fisher worked as hostesses during special events at the historic Schmidt House in Tumwater. Small previously had worked with the catering staff at Saint Martin's University.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

Marge Price, development director for the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, which owns the Schmidt House, said the sisters were good employees and many times received notes from guests complimenting their service.

"Our hearts are so sad for that family," Price said.

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 Monday after completing an autopsy, per its policy.

Accident investigation

Randall Wilson, the Olympia Police Department's traffic investigator, released preliminary details of the collision.

His investigation shows the following:

The 50-year-old female bus driver, who has not been identified, stopped at the intersection before proceeding north on Central Street. The motorcycle, driven by Smith, was heading east on Ethridge. There are stops signs on Central but not Ethridge.

Scrapes on the pavement indicate Smith intentionally or unintentionally laid the bike down on its left side 70 to 75 feet before impact. Based on the distance, Wilson said there's a "good possibility" Smith was exceeding the 25 mph speed limit, although an exact speed was unknown. Wilson said he talked with three witnesses Monday who said they thought 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 the rear tires of the 35-foot bus. As the bus continued forward, Small'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, had said Sunday that the bus driver drove the route frequently and was familiar with the intersection.

The operator looked both ways before proceeding, Kester said, but had told investigators vegetation near the southwest corner of the intersection obscured a portion of her view. Video from cameras on board the bus show the driver stopped at the intersection, Kester said.

Vegetation a factor

Wilson continues to investigate how the vegetation might 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," he said.

The collision report will be completed in a couple of weeks, he said.

City transportation engineers were at the collision scene taking measurements Monday. Randy Wesselman, the city's transportation, engineering and planning manager, referred inquiries about the collision to Wilson.

The bus driver, who was uninjured, remains on paid administrative leave pending an investigation started by IT's insurance pool. She underwent drug and alcohol testing immediately after the collision. The results were pending and would not be released because of Federal Transit Administration regulations, Kester said.

It was the first fatal collision involving an IT bus in almost a decade.

About 8:15 p.m. Sunday, collision was reported involving another IT bus. The bus was turning left onto 26th Avenue Northeast from Friendly Grove Road when it was struck by a red Honda Civic eastbound on 26th.

The car's driver and one of the two passengers on the bus were taken to the hospital, although their injuries weren't considered serious. It appears the speed of the Honda was a factor in the collision, Kester said, adding the bus driver tried to avoid the crash by steering off the road.

The collisions involved buses running the same schedule, Route 21, and occurred 1.3 miles from one another. The first collision occurred on the route's first run of the day, and the second collision occurred on its last run.

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

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