Impact of live-tweeted I-205 crash felt here, abroad

Heartbreaking incident brings crush of interest

By Emily Gillespie and Patty Hastings

Published:

 
photoCaran Johnson was tweeting about the crash, only to learn her husband had been killed in it.

News of a Vancouver woman's horrifying realization that she had live-tweeted the auto accident that claimed her husband's life went global Thursday, generating an outpouring of support and media inquiries from around the world.

You can help

Friends of Caran Johnson set up an online account that, by Thursday evening, had raised about $7,500. A donation account was also set up at Columbia Credit Union to raise funds for the grieving family. Donations can be made to any branch of the credit union under the account name "Craig and Caran Johnson Benefit Fund."

As the story was repeated via publications such as CNN, BBC News, the Times of India, the Scottish Daily Record and the Sydney Morning Herald, Caran Johnson said through Twitter that the media had descended on her Vancouver house.

"I need help. I've got reporters at my place," she tweeted. "Please media: I don't want to talk to you. I thank you for your thoughts and prayers but not now."

At the same time, supporters and well-wishers flooded a fundraising site established to help

the grieving family. As of Thursday evening, it had raised nearly $7,500 toward a $10,000 goal.

Johnson, 42, who goes by @ScanCouver on Twitter, tweets incidents reported on the Clark County police scanner. So, when a fatal head-on crash was blocking Interstate 205 just before 2 p.m. Wednesday, she was quick to tweet and retweet the news.

It wasn't until Johnson realized her husband was late coming home from work that her messages took a turn in tone. She tweeted her anxiety as she waited to hear from her husband, who had left work early because he was feeling faint. After she was silent on Twitter for about half an hour, she confirmed: "it's him. he died."

Getting word

At one point on Wednesday, as Johnson nervously waited for information about her husband, she searched for clues. She asked Washington State Patrol spokesman Trooper Will Finn a question via Twitter: "do you have descriptions of involved vehicles?"

Finn said the question sent off red flags.

"That's a very specific question," he said. "So I went back through her tweets and saw that she's having hard time and had a suspicion it might be him."

The WSP sped up the process of identifying the man and quickly sent two troopers to notify Johnson that her husband, Craig Johnson, 47, had died.

The worry, Finn said, was that Caran Johnson would continue to guess or put together clues from media outlets and other Twitter users.

"I do not want this person to find out over social media that (her husband) had died," Finn said. It is important to notify someone of the sad news in person, Finn said, "because we're all human."

"If they have questions or concerns, which there's always going to be, they have a face — not a voice on the other end of a phone or 140 characters," he said.

Investigation continues

The State Patrol continues to piece together the evidence and learn why Craig Johnson's Hyundai passenger car left the roadway, crossed a grassy median and crashed head-on into an oncoming Toyota pickup truck.

The investigation, Finn said, could take months, because the full medical examiner's report takes longer to complete.

"We will figure out what was going on: What happened and why," Finn said. "We'll be looking at the time of crash and working it backwards."

The driver of the pickup, Carol Shelley, 54, of Tacoma, was taken to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center where she was listed in critical condition.

According to the Clark County Medical Examiner's Office, Craig Johnson died of multiple blunt force injuries from the head-on collision.

On Wednesday, Johnson said in her tweets that her husband was epileptic.

The Medical Examiner's Office could not release whether Craig Johnson had experienced a medical episode prior to the crash. He has a valid driver's license with no medical restrictions.

"I don't think it's unusual for people who have epilepsy to be able to drive," said Brad Benfield, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Licensing. He added that the agency has a process in place for drivers with medical conditions. Doctors may submit certain requirements for someone to legally drive with their condition.

Throughout the evening Wednesday and into Thursday, the virtual community grieved with Caran Johnson by sending messages of support in 140 characters or less.

"She had thousands of people praying for her before she even knew it was him," said April Sturdevant, 35.

First on scene

Sturdevant had heard the crash and saw smoke as she was driving down the Padden Parkway onramp to I-205 south. The certified emergency responder told her 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old stepson to call 911, tell dispatchers there was a trauma accident and stay in the car.

When she got to the accident site, she met a retired trauma nurse and her son, a paramedic. They knew immediately there wasn't much they could do.

The paramedic pried open the passenger door and reclined the seat. Sturdevant sat near Craig Johnson, cradling his head in the crook of her right arm for more than an hour — even after he died.

"I was praying for her with Craig. … He knew we were praying for his wife with him," she said.

Sturdevant counted Johnson's breaths and monitored his pulse, comforting him and promising that she would reach out to Caran. She cut off his clothing and seat belt with her other arm, prepping him for the arrival of Vancouver paramedics. The retired trauma nurse, meanwhile, let 911 dispatchers know what was going on.

"As horrible as the situation was, he couldn't have had better people there," Sturdevant said. "He had no pain. He was oddly at peace."

After firefighters and paramedics arrived, one turned to her and asked if anyone had ever died on her. Yes, just two months earlier, she said.

He told her this would be her second.

"I would never want to go through that again," Sturdevant said, "but I'm glad I turned around."

Ties to victim

Sturdevant took to Twitter after the accident: "@ScanCouver I have dedicated last four hours trying to find you, I was with your husband for his last breath I have words of comfort for you."

They talked through Facebook and Sturdevant gave her phone number, telling Caran Johnson to call when she was ready.

Sturdevant's nieces go to Salmon Creek Elementary School with Johnson's two sons, and Johnson attends the church where Sturdevant works. So, they had met before and seen each other at various functions. The accident, she said, was a springboard for friendship.

"When things settle she wants me to see her family," Sturdevant said.

At that time, she said with her voice cracking, she will hug Johnson with the same arms that held her husband at the end.