Caran Johnson was an inveterate follower of police accident reports. Ever since her college years, she had tracked police scanners for local news and traffic incidents — as much, she said, for the police officer banter as for the up-to-date information on what was happening in her city.
In recent years, social media had not only allowed Johnson to be even more informed, but also turned her into something of a local celebrity. Her Twitter following was something of a community service to the Vancouver, Wash. area — she routinely tweeted out up-to-the-minute details on traffic flow and news of collisions on the area’s freeways. So well known was her Twitter feed that the local newspaper, the Columbian, interviewed her about in 2012.
In this interview, she acknowledged that accident report news “gets kind of depressing, especially when there are children involved.” She described herself as a naturally upbeat person, adding that in the face of upsetting news about local traffic, “I try and maintain a positive attitude.”
In addition to monitoring police scanners, Johnson followed the social media accounts of local police. It was through a tweet from the Columbian Metrodesk account, at about 1:40 p.m. on Dec. 4, 2013, that Johnson first learned of an accident on I-205.
A Fateful Afternoon
“[I] hate that section of I205 S,” she tweeted. “[T]oo many on ramps, speeders and too few lanes.” She then advised her Twitter followers to move over for emergency responders and give them room to reach the scene.
The Columbian Metrodesk account continued to relay information about the accident and the resulting pileup: emergency responders were putting a Life Flight helicopter on standby, state police confirmed that there were at least three vehicles involved, with two people trapped in the wreckage. One lane of the highway was closed, and the state police were about to block off the freeway entirely in order to make room for the helicopter.
Johnson responded, “This accident sounds horrible.”
At 3:05 p.m., Columbian Metrodesk curtly announced that there had been one fatality.
As the Washington State Patrol Twitter account confirmed this report, Johnson continued to comment. But, after a few minutes, her tweets took on a more somber tone.
‘It’s Him. He Died’
Johnson solicited the State Police and Metrodesk Twitter accounts for descriptions of the vehicles involved in the crash, but got no response. She continued to feed out increasingly worried updates:
“i’m a basketcase”
“I just called his work and he was feeling faint when he left work. #panic”
This feeling: “…my husband left work early and drives 205 to get home. [H]e’s not answering his phone.”Click to Tweet this!
“i just called 911 and they transferred me after I gave them his license number and told me that they will call me back. wtf?”
Johnson’s Twitter followers did their best to console her, offering reassurances and doing their best to track down the answers to her questions. At one point, another Twitter user sent Johnson a photo of the accident site.
To this, Johnson responded, “thank you. i’m freaking out now.”
Less than an hour after her initial notice of the accident, at 4:50 p.m., Johnson sent out the following:
“it’s him. he died.”
An Outpouring of Support
The strange and tragic story sparked interest well beyond the community of Vancouver. News organizations as far away as the New York Daily News, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the London Mirror reported on the story with sensational headlines like “Woman unwittingly live-tweets husband’s death.”
The Twittersphere was more sensitive. Her followers extended their prayers and sympathy to her for days following the accident, and even organized an online fundraiser to help with funeral costs and provide ongoing support for the family. In an update two days after the crash, the organizer reported on the fundraiser page:
“I spoke with [Johnson] earlier and she is simply overwhelmed and in awe at the support she and the kids have received. NONE of it was expected, in fact, she said we were at over $3000 before she even knew what was happening here.”
In the midst of intrusive calls continuing from the worldwide media, the local news reported on the incident this way:
“What happened to Johnson is a reminder to anyone who makes their living off the fact that bad things happen to good people. The fact that on any given moment the tragedy I’m covering could involve someone I know fuels my compassion. I want to make sure that I am doing what I can to treat people the way I would want my family treated. Let’s all let her know that we are here for her; that she is not alone.”
Who We Are
Here at Perey Law, we are experienced in providing skilled and compassionate legal counsel to victims of car accidents and other personal injury matters in Washington. Contact us at (206) 443-7600 for a free, no-obligation case review, or fill out the form on the right-hand side of this page.
image credit: The Colombian