Firefighter’s Family Disputes Suicide Ruling

(CN) – The family of an Ohio firefighter killed by a car while walking on the highway wants a $3 million insurance payout, claiming in court that she was not trying to kill herself.

Tonya R. Johnson’s family members sued Guardian Life Insurance Co. in the Summit County Court of Common Pleas on Feb. 22, the first anniversary of her death.

They added the Akron Police Department and Summit County Medical Examiner Dr. Lisa Kohler as defendants, asking them to change their records to reflect that Johnson did not commit suicide.

The family characterized Kohler’s and APD’s investigations as “grossly careless and negligent.”

Johnson, a 43-year-old mother of three, worked as a full-time firefighter in the city of Canton for 18 years. She also started a business called In Trusting Care LLC, which provides Medicaid services to the disabled.

In October 2015, Johnson began a romantic relationship with Randey Johnson. They got married on Valentine’s Day in 2016.

However, the Johnsons’ marriage only lasted nine days. They drew up divorce papers in Cleveland and began arguing on the return trip to Canton during rush hour, court records show.

According to the lawsuit, Randey pulled the car to the side of the highway in Akron and Johnson stepped out of the car. She called her cousin on the phone, asking her to “come get me, come get me,” according to the lawsuit.

Johnson crossed the southbound lanes of Route 8 and climbed over the median. However, when she tried to cross the northbound lanes, she was hit by a car and killed.

“Tonya’s mother, children, sister and cousin all stated unequivocally that Tonya would only have exited the vehicle out of fear for her life, most likely fear that Randey would cause her imminent harm and that she had no other choice than to exit the vehicle and flee,” the lawsuit states.

Her family also denied Randey’s statement to police that Tonya was bipolar, suffering from depression and off her medication.

“A full review of all of Tonya Johnson’s medical records proved that she had no history of bipolar disorder or depression, nor had she ever taken any medication relating to such diagnoses,” the lawsuit states.

The family also stated that Akron police should have searched the Cadillac Escalade because it had expired tags, rather than allowing Randey to drive away in it.

Johnson had purchased a life insurance policy in September 2015, with her three children as beneficiaries. It contained an exclusion for suicide.

In seeking to overturn the medical examiner’s conclusion that Johnson killed herself, the family refuted the claims of witnesses who stated that she “purposely” stepped into traffic.

“The witnesses claim an extra-sensory ability to visually observe an individual’s psychological intent based on a few seconds of observation at a speed of more than 55 mph,” the complaint states.

The family also asserted claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, stating that their actions “require having to file a lawsuit and relive the horrific day over and over again.”

The lawsuit calls for an additional $5 million in damages, apart from the $3 million from the insurance policy.

Attorney David DuPlain of Canton is representing Johnson’s family in the lawsuit.

Summit County and the city of Akron declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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