Wednesday, August 28, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Woman's Family Asks Stortini To Avoid Funeral

Pierce County Executive Joe Stortini has been asked by the family of Susan Webstad, with whom he had been having an affair, to stay away from her funeral this afternoon.

Stortini was with Webstad when she took a fatal drug overdose early Monday morning. Pierce County's highest elected official said she took the prescription medication after he told her he was seeking a reconciliation with his wife.

Webstad's friends and family attribute Webstad's divorce early this year to her relationship with Stortini and her belief that they would have a lasting relationship, said Dave Davies, a family friend.

Stortini is portraying himself as the victim in Webstad's apparent suicide, at Webstad's expense, said her daughter, Ericka Webstad, 20.

"Everyone's dragging her name in the mud, and she did not deserve that at all," she said.

The daughter said she does not blame Stortini for her mother's death, but believes his main con-cerns have been his reputation and his own family.

A tape recording of Stortini's call to 911 early Monday morning shows the executive asked that emergency vehicles "come up without all the lights and sirens and things."

It was "an embarrassing situation" for his boss, said Stortini spokesman Dick Ferguson. "At one point he was asked (by an emergency dispatcher) his name, and I could tell by his voice he was embarrassed to tell he was Joe Stortini."

Stortini agreed not to attend Webstad's funeral after Pierce County Sheriff Chuck Robbins informed him yesterday that the family didn't want him there.

Stortini was disappointed by the request because he "wished to personally show his respects for Susan," said Ferguson.

Fighting back tears, Ericka Webstad described her mother as a loving, upbeat woman who went out of her way to help others.

"She was the apple of everybody's eye until she started working for the county," Ericka Webstad said, adding that some county workers called her mother a home wrecker when she became involved with Stortini.

The affair eventually resulted in Webstad's divorce and Stortini's separation from his wife. "He was in love with her. . . . It was not a one-sided thing," Ericka Webstad said.

Susan Webstad, 46, worked in Stortini's office from 1986 until 1989, when she became a public-information specialist in the county's garbage utility.

Stortini told police Monday morning that he waited more than a half-hour to call for medical help after learning that Webstad had taken an unknown amount of prescription drugs. He called 911 after she lost consciousness.

Stortini told sheriff's deputies Webstad had been drinking.

Ericka Webstad said Stortini knew her mother had a drinking problem and should have called for help as soon as he realized she took an overdose of Verapamil, a heart medication, along with alcohol.

"He's got to understand he's not going to have too many friends (in her family) right now," she said.

According to a police report, Webstad's son said she had tried suicide last year. But she went through therapy and seemed a happy, positive woman and a devout Christian, friends said.

Ericka Webstad, who was living with Susan Webstad at the time of her death, offered this message to her mother: "Mom, we love you, and knowing you're up there on our side, I know we all feel better, and God bless."

In other developments yesterday:

-- The Tacoma Police Department agreed to oversee the Pierce County sheriff's investigation into Webstad's death. County Prosecutor John Ladenburg suggested the independent review of the county investigation.

Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Curt Benson promised "a complete, thorough investigation."

-- After Stortini appeared at a County Council meeting to ask for support, Chairwoman Barbara Gelman dropped her request that he take time off "to think through his position."

"I do not plan to resign, I do not plan to take a leave of absence," Stortini said. "Things are going well and I'll stay right there - unless somebody kicks me out by vote, and I hope they won't do that."

Gelman and Councilwoman Barbara Skinner said they support Stortini's decision to complete his term, which runs to the end of next year.

Councilman Dennis Flannigan, who managed Stortini's 1984 campaign for county executive, said the scandal has dashed the politician's aspirations for higher office.


This is the transcript from a recording, released by the Pierce County sheriff's office yesterday, of a call from Pierce County Executive Joe Stortini to 911 about 1:45 a.m. Monday.

Dispatcher 1: 911, police or fire?

Stortini: Can you give me the number of the Edgewood Fire Department?

Dispatcher 1: Edgewood. I can connect you, sir. I don't have a phone number.

Stortini: Connect me with them.

Dispatcher 1: OK, hold on.

(Sounds of dialing, phone rings, is answered.)

Dispatcher 2: 911. Do you have an emergency?

Stortini: Yes, I'm at 413 Meridian and I've got somebody (unintelligible).

Dispatcher 2: Go ahead, sir.

Stortini: A lady took some pills and I can't get her to wake up. I think they're blood-pressure pills.

Dispatcher 2: Do you think she might have overdosed on these?

Stortini: Yeah, I think so.

Dispatcher 2: You're in the Edgewood area there?

Stortini: 413, yeah. The light's on in the front. Can you come up without all the lights and sirens and things? I'll have the lights on and I'll be out in front.

Dispatcher 2: OK, that's 413 Meridian East, right, in Edgewood?

Stortini: Well, it's right across from the Food Mart, down from Albertson's. (pause) OK? (pause) She doesn't look good at all.

Dispatcher 2: OK, and that's where you're at?

Stortini: Yes, I'm right here.

Dispatcher 2: OK, and is this a house or an apartment?

Stortini: A house.

Dispatcher 2: OK, sir, we'll respond an aid unit.

Dispatcher 1: OK, sir - hello? Hello?

Dispatcher 2: Sir?

Dispatcher 1: Hello?

Dispatcher 2: He hung up on us.

Dispatcher 1: OK.

Dispatcher 2: OK. Are you going to have a county unit call him?

Dispatcher 1: Yeah, I'm going to call him back, yeah.

Dispatcher 2: OK.

Dispatcher 1: All right. Stupid s---.

(Sounds of dialing, phone rings, is answered.)

Stortini: Yes?

Dispatcher 1: OK, yeah, this is the Police Department, I need, what is your name, you're Frank Piazza? (Piazza is Stortini's late uncle.)

Stortini: Yes, uh-huh. I'm staying at Frank's house here.

Dispatcher 1: OK, what's your name, sir?

Stortini: My name's Joe Stortini.


Dispatcher 1: OK, who is this female? Did she do this intentionally, or is this an accident?

Stortini: I have no idea. She was taking some pills here and um . . .

Dispatcher 1: Mm-hm.

Stortini: I think you better hurry here.

Dispatcher 1: OK, well . . .

Stortini: Try not to put the sirens on.

Dispatcher 1: Yeah, well, see, the Fire Department, they're already on their way.

Stortini: OK, thanks.

Dispatcher 1: OK. Do you know this lady's name or anything?

Stortini: Yes, I do. I'll give it to them when they get here. OK, thanks.

Dispatcher 1: You bet.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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