Speed gauged in fatal crash

By Tom Joyce - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

An accident reconstruction by the Mount Airy Police Department has generated more information about a single-vehicle crash that claimed the life of a city woman earlier this month.

This includes a determination about how fast the 2008 Ford Escape was traveling when it struck a railroad signal post head-on at the intersection of U.S. 601 and U.S. 52, causing the death of Ashley Nicole Johnson, 27.

“The range of speed at the time of impact was between 42 and 49 miles per hour,” Sgt. R.N. Bennett said Monday of findings from a two-week study by a city police accident-reconstruction team.

Bennett said such a speed might not seem great in terms of causing tremendous damage and death, as was the case on Sept. 3, but that can be misleading.

“You can total a vehicle at 25 miles per hour,” said the officer who has handled accident reconstructions since 2007.

“It doesn’t take much — you’re hitting a fixed structure as well.”

Ashley Johnson was a passenger in the SUV being driven by her father, Bobby Ray Johnson, 59, with the crash occurring about 5:45 a.m. on Sept. 3 as the two were delivering The Mount Airy News, a task normally handled by her parents. Ashley actually worked in the mailroom at the newspaper, but was helping her father with the route due to her mother’s surgery the day before.

Police have said the SUV, while northbound on U.S. 601 and heading through the intersection, veered across the opposite lanes of U.S. 601 and hit the signal post, a sturdy metal structure for the railroad crossing located near 601’s southbound lanes.

“The majority of the impact occurred on the front passenger side of the vehicle,” Bennett said, which is where Ashley Johnson was riding. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Emergency personnel have said the SUV was heavily damaged and that a lengthy extrication procedure was required to free the occupants.

Bobby Johnson was critically injured in the crash and has been hospitalized since.

One thing that hasn’t been determined is why the vehicle went out of control, with early speculation suggesting it possibly was due to some medical issue on the part of the driver or he simply fell asleep.

Sgt. Bennett said Monday that Bobby Johnson had been working a regular job along with running the newspaper route, and the cause of the wreck could have been due to his “exhaustion.”

Accident reconstruction is a meticulous scientific process that involves using crush analysis and measurements to determine the amount of energy and momentum required to cause certain damage. The specifications of the vehicle also are taken into account.

That information is then applied to various formulas to determine such factors as speed.

Accident reconstructions are conducted by Mount Airy police when fatalities result, and in the case of the Sept. 3 incident a three-person team was involved, Bennett along with Cpl. Jonathan Watson and Sgt. Brendon Evans.

Bennett said the results of the investigation will be forwarded to the Surry County District Attorney’s Office, another routine procedure when traffic fatalities occur in the city.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

By Tom Joyce


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