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Missing woman's family upset by failure to find car in time

Beverly Johnson's Honda was seen hours after she vanished on a Washington highway
by: Submitted photo, Beverly Johnson's husband, Delbert, is upset that more wasn't done to find the missing Beaverton woman after her car was spotted hours after she left the City Library Jan. 27.

Beverly Joyce Johnson's grieving family was angered and upset by a report last week that someone saw her car driving on a Washington highway just hours after she left Beaverton, and that local law enforcement agencies were unable to find the vehicle until 12 days later.

Delbert Johnson, Beverly's husband of 51 years, said Tuesday that he was 'very angry' that not enough had been done to find her dark purple 1999 Honda Accord that night.

If a general bulletin had been broadcast to all law enforcement agencies in Grays Harbor County, Wash., that night Delbert Johnson is convinced his wife would still be alive.

'They could have saved her life and chose not to,' he said. 'They chose to ignore a life-or-death situation. I don't understand that kind of thing.

'I'm very, very angry, especially when I think about the fact that they didn't even contact the Beaverton Police Department about the report.'

Beverly Johnson disappeared at about 4 p.m. Jan. 27, when she was last seen leaving the Beaverton City Library. Her body was found almost by accident Feb. 7 by two biologists who took a wrong turn on isolated and remote U.S. Forest Service roads near Wynoochee Lake in Washington's Olympic National Forest.

Now the Grays Harbor County sheriff's office is looking into whether Johnson's Honda Accord was seen weaving across a highway near Elma, Wash., at about 9 p.m., nearly five hours after she drove away from Beaverton.

The sheriff's office is investigating a call placed to emergency dispatchers reporting the Accord as a possible drunken driver. Law enforcement officials are also looking into whether enough was done to find Johnson's car after it became apparent that it was part of a 'missing or endangered person' report from Oregon.

Intense search

According to the sheriff's office, an off-duty Montesano, Wash., parking enforcement officer called the region's emergency dispatch center about the Accord as it drove along Highway 12 west of Olympia. The call was routed to the State Patrol Communications Center in Bremerton, which notified state troopers that the car possibly belonged to Johnson.

Grays Harbor sheriff's deputies were not told of the call because no bulletin was sent to all law enforcement agencies in the region.

'There are a menu of things that could have happened,' said Grays Harbor County Undersheriff Rick Scott. 'The priority could have been upgraded. A more intense search for the vehicle could have been conducted.

'The bottom line is a woman ended up dead. Would we have found her (if other steps were taken)? I don't know.'

A string of unusual events might have blocked the discovery of Johnson's car on the evening of Jan. 27. At about the time the weaving Accord was reported deputies were involved in a high-speed chase that included gunshots. Other officers were helping at a rollover accident near Aberdeen.

It wasn't until much later, after the other incidents, that a search for Johnson's car began.

Delbert Johnson said he was angry that law enforcement officials didn't push harder to find the car once they learned it was a missing or endangered person.

'They can make all the excuses in the world, but I'm not very sympathetic,' he said. 'They made a choice between life and death and I ended up without a wife.'

How Johnson ended up the Forest Service road is still a mystery. Getting to the remote road is not easy.

Delbert Johnson thinks his wife might have been driving north to see family friends who live in Kingston, Wash., on the west side of the Puget Sound, north of Bremerton.

'Her whole mind shuts down when she has one of her twilight seizures, but her long-term memory could have tried to kick in,' Delbert Johnson said. 'It's possible that she may have been heading to see Bill and Shirley.'

'Sweet woman'

Discovery of Johnson's body last week ended a 12-day search that included two Beaverton police detectives, 1,000 missing-person posters and pleas acorss the West Coast from Johnson's family for information on where their beloved mother, wife and friend could be.

A memorial service was held last week at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Lake Oswego. The Johnson family has asked that remembrances be made to the Haitian Children's Scholarship Fund through the church.

During the service, family and friends remembered the woman who was born into the Chitwood family March 25, 1937, in Watford City, N.D. She graduated from Minot State University and lived in Eugene and Hood River before moving to Gresham in 1975.

Beverly Johnson was a teacher for 31 years in the Hood River and Reedville school districts. From 1962 to 1975, she taught at Hood River's Park Street and May Street elementary schools.

In 1979, she and Delbert Johnson moved to Beaverton.

She is survived by her husband, her daughter Taffy; her son Stacey; and her sisters, Sharon Bratcher, Diane Netter and Judy Chitwood.

Delbert Johnson said he wanted his wife to be remembered as a 'sweet, sweet woman.'

'She always had a good thing to say about everybody,' he said. 'She was a good woman inside and out. I'm going to miss her forever.'

Delbert Johnson said he was thankful for the 51 years he shared with Beverly, but he wasn't ready for it to end in such a tragic way.

'I wanted another 10 or 20,' he said. 'I don't know what I'm going to do now.'