In a series of gut-wrenching tweets on Wednesday that grew more frantic, the Vancouver, Wash., mother first tweeted how horrible it was when she learned someone had died on Interstate 205 near the Oregon border.
Caran Johnson, who uses the handle ScanCouver, then told her Twitter followers that she was trying not to panic because her husband, who drives the freeway, wasn't picking up his phone and was late getting home.
"i'm a basketcase," she tweeted.
Johnson also worried because her husband had epilepsy and was feeling faint when he left work early. She wondered whether he might have pulled over somewhere and fretted about how long she should wait for him before calling police.
As the events unfolded, she messaged Washington State Patrol spokesman Will Finn directly, asking whether he had descriptions of the vehicles involved in the collision. Finn said he didn't, but it struck him as odd so he began looking into the crash.
"I contacted the investigator and we put two and two together. I realized I had a situation on my hands," Finn said Thursday while confirming that Johnson uses the Twitter handle - ScanCouver - that appeared on the tweets.
Troopers later went to Johnson's home to tell her that her husband, 47-year-old Craig Johnson, had died in the collision.
Caran Johnson then tweeted: "it's him. he died."
"It hits very close to home," said Abbi Russell, a Washington Transportation Department spokeswoman who is familiar with tweets from ScanCouver. "Yes, it is social media, but it is a community of its own."
Finn said Craig Johnson's car crossed the median about 2 p.m. Wednesday and collided with another car on I-205 about 5 miles north of Portland, Ore. The other driver, Carol S. Shelley, 54, of Tacoma, suffered serious injuries and was taken to a hospital with broken bones and internal injuries, authorities said.
Finn said he held off posting a crash photo on Twitter after Caran Johnson messaged him asking about the accident, just in case her husband had been involved. He said he has never met Caran Johnson but the two follow each other on Twitter.
"It's a terrible situation. We don't want to tell anybody over social media that they have lost a family member. We would never do that," Finn said.
Caran Johnson received an outpouring of messages on Twitter after the crash.
"Thank you all so much for the prayers and thoughts," she tweeted.
A phone listing could not be found for Caran Johnson. Messages sent to her Facebook and Twitter accounts were not immediately answered.
Finn said investigators did not suspect drugs or alcohol played a role in the crash. Asked whether Craig Johnson's epilepsy contributed, Finn said the accident was still under investigation.
Brad Benfield, a state licensing spokesman, said the state can restrict or deny driver's licenses for people with serious medical conditions, based on evaluations by doctors.
Washington doesn't have a blanket rule against driving with epilepsy or other specific conditions, he said.
Finn said Craig Johnson did not have a medical restriction on his license.
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