Field Notes

Woman's tragic coincidence offers lessons of compassion

“It’s him. He died.”

It was 3:50 in the afternoon and Caran Johnson had just let the world know that the car accident she had been tweeting about involved her husband, Craig.

It was the end of two hours in which Johnson, a well-known listener of emergency radio in Clark County who tweets out what she hears under the name @scancouver, slowly came to realize that her life was changing.

Johnson, a mother of two who lives in Salmon Creek, has spent a lot of time over the past couple of years letting residents of Clark County know about some of the stuff they probably wish they had never heard about: fires, murders, assaults, robberies.

What happened to Johnson is a reminder to anyone who makes their living off the fact that bad things happen to good people.

On Wednesday, it started out with Johnson retweeting some information from the Columbian.

“Emergency responders are on the way to a 2-car collision on I-205 SB near 83rd Street. Move over for them and give them some room. #VanWa

“Police are asking to close EB ramps from Padden to SB 205 #VanWa #pdxtraffic”

There were other tidbits – “sounds like a two car accident… one of the cars rolled… Emergency responders are putting a Life Flight helicopter on standby.”

She knew the area where the accident happened.

“i hate that section of I205 S,” she tweeted. “too many on ramps, speeders and too few lanes.”

The newspaper tweeted that Washington State Patrol was going to have to shut the highway, prompting her to write: “this accident sounds horrible.”

It wasn’t long after that she started to think something horrible.

“I'm trying not to panic, but my husband left work early and he drives 205 to get home,” she wrote. “he's not answering his phone…. and he's late.”

She wrote to the Columbian and the public information officer for the Washington State Patrol asking if they had a description of the vehicles involved.

“i just called 911 and they transferred me after I gave them his license number and told me that they will call me back,” she wrote a little later. “wtf? how long do i wait for him to come home before I call the police?”

She started to rationalize his absence. He wasn’t feeling well – he has epilepsy and may have pulled over. His office said he had been feeling faint.

“#panic,” she wrote. “i'm a basketcase.  Why would they want to call back?”

Her kids came home from school and then the news came.

There really are no words to describe what Johnson must have been going through as the realization dawned upon her.

I keep trying to think of September 11 when I was in New York for a 24-hour station. The thing is that while no one knew at first how horrible it was going to be, we knew that people had died that day and when the buildings collapsed, the horror was so sudden, so all-encompassing that everyone in the business knew that they knew people they would never see again.

So much of what we do in this business is incumbent on bad things happening to people who don’t deserve it.

People criticize the media for focusing on the bad but the fact is that if it was only good news, no one would pay attention.

Here’s the thing, each and every day people in this business listen to the emergency radios, we send people out or go out to cover crimes and tragedies. Whether we admit it or not, many of us listen for the address with something in our brains making sure no one we know lives there. Or near there.

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.

“He's the one I go to for things like this...” Johnson wrote at one point.

Let’s all let her know that we are here for her; that she is not alone.