Family wants Pierce County medical examiner forced to change cause of death ruling for teen

Dr. Thomas Clark, Pierce County chief medical examiner, is shown March 4, 2016 in his office with a teaching microscope.
Dr. Thomas Clark, Pierce County chief medical examiner, is shown March 4, 2016 in his office with a teaching microscope. phaley@thenewstribune.com

The family of a teenager who died when he fell from a Puyallup bridge has asked a Pierce County Superior Court judge to review the Medical Examiner’s finding that the death was a suicide.

The petition for review, filed Wednesday, argues that 16-year-old Jordon Gish’s death July 6, 2017 was an accident.

The court action by Gish’s father, Michael Gish, follows complaints this year from an associate medical examiner about Pierce County Medical Examiner Thomas Clark’s investigations.

“Clark has refused to correctly characterize the manner of Jordon Gish’s death accidental despite Michael Gish, through counsel, requesting the manner be properly characterized as accidental,” the petition says.

Asked if Clark wanted to comment, a spokeswoman offered a statement from Pierce County Thursday that said: “We offer our condolences to the Gish family on the loss of their son. While the review process may be difficult, we hope it will bring some measure of peace.”

The petition says the teenager was setting off firecrackers with a friend shortly before 4 a.m. and playing on the bridge at 1100 N. Meridian.

“The two believed the north and southbound bridges were connected,” the petition says. “Jordon ran across the bridge and vaulted over the railing believing he would leap from one side to the next. Jordon was mistaken and fell to his death at the gap where there was a 30 foot drop between the two bridges.”

The teen’s father accuses Clark of refusing to meet with him and of wrongly characterizing cuts on the teenager’s arms as self-inflicted.

The marks were “consistent with his outdoor recreational activities the prior weekend,” the petition says.

Michael Gish’s attorney, Joan Mell, also has represented associate medical examiner Megan Quinn, who filed a whistleblower complaint against Clark earlier this year that accused Clark of mismanaging death investigations. Quinn was put on paid administrative leave four weeks later.

Quinn also filed a complaint with the Washington Medical Commission.

Both the county and the state Department of Health are investigating.

Gish’s petition asks the court to have Quinn facilitate the correction to the death certificate, and it asks the court to prohibit Clark from interfering.

“The erroneous cause of death determination affects entitlements to available benefits that have otherwise been denied,” the petition says. “A prompt determination is needed to prevent expiration of any claims for benefits.”

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Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.