SEATTLE -- Three members of a Joint Base Lewis-McChord family are dead after an Army combat medic killed himself and his wife, and police found the body of the couple's 5-year-old son in their Spanaway home, according to police and the military.
Authorities identified the soldier as 38-year-old David F. Stewart, who shot himself in the head as his disabled car was approached by a Washington State Patrol trooper after a high-speed chase along Interstate 5 near Tumwater, Thurston County. In the passenger seat was the body of his wife, Kristy Sampels, also 38, who also had suffered a gunshot wound to the head. Autopsies are scheduled for Wednesday, said Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock.
Officials said the woman appeared to have been ill.
The child was found in the couple's home in Spanaway, Pierce County. The medical examiner identified him as Jordan Stewart. The cause of his death was not immediately released.
Sampels' 10-year-old daughter from a previous marriage initially was thought to be missing but was found safe with her father in Redmond, Ore., said sheriff's spokesman Detective Ed Troyer.
The bizarre events began just before 6 a.m., when a trooper on routine patrol clocked the driver of a silver Ford Focus going south on I-5 at 85 mph, said Trooper Guy Gill. The trooper pulled his patrol car behind the Focus and turned on his emergency lights in an attempt to pull the vehicle over, he said.
But the driver refused to stop, and raced off at speeds reaching 100 mph in an attempt to elude the trooper, Gill said. A second trooper set up a spike strip along the highway, about four miles south of where the pursuit began, and both tires on the driver's side were successfully punctured, he said.
After the tires were blown, the first trooper attempted a maneuver intended to disable the car as it slowed to 30 mph outside Tumwater, according to Gill. The vehicle failed to stop but the driver lost control and collided with a jersey barrier about two miles farther south, he said.
As soon as the car was stopped, the trooper saw the driver -- Stewart -- lift his hand to his head, a gesture followed by the sound of a gunshot, Gill said. Sampels' body was found in the passenger seat and Gill said it initially did not appear that she had been shot or injured during the collision.
It wasn't until Sampels' body was delivered to Warnock's office that death investigators observed a gunshot wound to her head, he said. "She had some sort of medical condition ... We just know she didn't look healthy," Warnock said.
He said investigators told him Stewart and Sampels' house in Spanaway looked as if it had been ransacked.
"There was definitely a struggle inside that house," Warnock said. He said it did not appear that Sampels was shot inside the house.
According to Troyer, the couple's Spanaway house, was full of medical equipment.
Facebook pages belonging to Stewart and Sampels indicate that both had undergone surgery in recent months. Stewart apparently suffered injuries to his shoulder and testicles, according to items he posted. Sampels' medical condition was not specified, although there were references to her having been ill.
She studied nursing at Central Oregon Community College, according to her Facebook page.
A Facebook post by Sampels indicates the family moved to Spanaway from Oregon last April.
Months earlier, on Dec. 3, 2009, Sampels wrote: "My husband made it back from Iraq and will be in Oregon soon."
Eight days after his wife's post, Stewart wrote on his Facebook page: "little more than 24 hrs and im back with my beautiful wife and children. life is great!"
Family members declined to be interviewed Tuesday.
But friends of Stewart said the Army combat medic had been a well-respected soldier and friend.
"He was a good friend and a great soldier. He always had a hand if someone needed it," said Sgt. Ryan Keplinger, who is stationed at Fort Bragg where Stewart had been before he was assigned to Fort Lewis last year. "Everybody liked him and everybody missed him."
Another friend, Sgt. Daniel Montijo of Fort Bragg, said he could not imagine what could have been going on to cause the tragedy.
Montijo said Stewart had been deployed to Iraq at least twice.
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