Johnson family retains attorney and is looking for 'negligence' in way emergency call was handled
Several missteps and miscommunication may have kept Grays Harbor County law enforcement agencies from spotting Beverly Johnson's car on a Washington highway in late January, just hours after the 69-year-old woman disappeared from Beaverton.
But, according to a report on the handling of the Jan. 27 emergency dispatch call released Tuesday, Grays Harbor County sheriff's deputies, police officers and 911 dispatch center employees all followed proper procedure in the case.
Law enforcement officials could only speculate that the situation would have turned out differently if one or two things had changed that night.
The 22-page report by Aberdeen police Det. Sgt. Charles J. Chastain and Det. W. Bret Ellis also made it clear that no one was to blame for a failure to find Johnson's car that night on Washington Highway 12 near the town of Elma.
The Grays Harbor County sheriff's office and the county's E9-1-1 Communications Center in Aberdeen asked for the review.
Delbert Johnson, Beverly's husband, was not satisfied by the report's conclusions. He has retained a Seattle attorney and was scouring the report Tuesday night to get a clearer picture of what happened the evening his wife disappeared from Beaverton.
'Obviously, she was followed up there,' Delbert Johnson said. 'They (law enforcement officers) went to another location and no one went to check out my wife.
'The chance that they had they blew as far as saving her life.'
Delbert Johnson declined to discuss the issue in detail. He said his attorney was looking into the handling of the case for evidence of possible negligence.
'If we think there's any negligence, we'll decide to do something about it,' Delbert Johnson said. 'Right now, I don't know what we're going to do.'
Beverly Johnson was last seen leaving Beaverton's City Library at about 4 p.m. Jan. 27. Her body was found 12 days later by two biologists almost by accident on a remote U.S. Forest Service road less than five miles from Wynooche Dam in the Olympic National Forest.
Beverly Johnson had a history of twilight seizures that impaired her memory and often left her unable to communicate. She was taking medication for the seizures at the time she disappeared.
Delbert Johnson said last month that his wife could have been trying to drive to a family friend's house in Kingston, Wash., at the time her car was spotted on Highway 12 near Elma.
Sometime in the evening of Jan. 27, the former elementary school teacher apparently drove past the cities of Elma, Montesano, Hoquium and Aberdeen and left Highway 101, turning into rural areas before stopping on the Forest Service road blocked by fallen trees.
A medical examiner's report said Johnson died of hypothermia after she somehow was locked out of her car on the lonely road. Foul play was not indicated in her death.
According to the 911 agency review, Johnson's Accord was spotted at 8:41 p.m. by Tyler Trimble, a Montesano parking enforcement officer who was driving home on Highway 12 after officiating at high school basketball games.
Trimble called 911 dispatchers to report the Honda as a possible drunk driver because it was traveling 35 mph on the highway and crossing the fog line.
Trimble's call was routed to the Washington State Patrol dispatch center in Bremerton because the car was on a state highway. Troopers were told about the car, but no general broadcast was made to all the county's law enforcement agencies.
A policy requiring countywide broadcasts about missing or endangered people could have 'resulted in more attentive field response,' according to the report. That didn't mean, however, that the broadcast would have altered the situation's tragic outcome, Chastain and Ellis noted.
At home, Trimble saw a television news broadcast at 10:15 p.m. about Johnson's disappearance. He called the local 911 dispatch center to see if anyone was able to find the Honda, but was mistakenly told the car he saw wasn't the one from Beaverton.
On Feb. 7, when Johnson's body was discovered, Trimble told Montesano Police Chief Ray Sowers about the car he saw nearly two weeks earlier.
Trimble said he had been contacted by the Johnsons' attorney seeking information about the case.
Heavy radio traffic
Several unusual events on Jan. 27 prevented Elma police officers from finding Johnson's car, according to the report.
Two Elma police officers were on duty that night. One of the officers, Anthony Rios, assisted Grays Harbor County sheriff's deputies in a high-speed chase that involved gunshots.
A rollover accident at about the same time also required the attention of other deputies and patrol officers.
After the suspect in the high-speed chase was arrested, Rios left the scene at about 8:55 p.m. and was told about the possible drunk driver.
Rios drove through town looking for the Honda, but was unable to find the car. By then Rios had been alerted that the car might belong to a missing person.
Around the same time, 911 emergency dispatchers broadcast information about Johnson and the Honda to the eastern part of the county. The information was not broadcast countywide, and all Grays Harbor County sheriff's deputies on duty that night were not told about Johnson or the Accord.
However, of the 26 law enforcement officers on duty in the region (city, county and state agencies) only three would have received the broadcast about Johnson's car.
According to the report, 'heavy radio traffic' that night could have caused some officers to tune out the broadcasts.