Family of Canton firefighter killed on Route 8 files lawsuit against medical examiner

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AKRON, Ohio - Attorneys for the family of a Canton firefighter who was killed exactly one year ago, on February 22, while crossing Route 8 on foot, have filed a lawsuit against the Summit County Medical Examiner.

David DuPlain and Danielle Pierce filed the suit just before the end of the business day at the Summit County Clerk of Courts office in Akron.

The family has long held that Tonya Johnson, 43, would never have taken her own life.

Johnson was a firefighter and paramedic for 18 years with the Canton fire department. She was also the mother of three  and had a business on the side working with children.

She and her husband of 9 days were returning to Canton from Cleveland when he pulled their SUV over to the side of the road on Rt. 8 in Akron.

Her family, through their attorneys, believe that the couple had been arguing after Johnson broke the news that she had filed to have their marriage dissolved and that she would never have left the SUV if she did not feel as though she was threatened.

For reasons that  may never be clear, Johnson got out of the vehicle and successfully made her way across the southbound lanes on foot, jumped over a median, and was hit and killed in the northbound lanes.

Her death was ruled a suicide.

The lawsuit asks for the ruling by the medical examiner to be changed from suicide to non- suicide or accidental.

Their attorneys insist that in fact she had far more reasons to live than to intentionally harm herself.

"Everything that we have found points to non suicide and in fact she had what we call it an undeniable will to live actually and she had so many things going for her she was loved by everyone and was a very, very positive person," Pierce told Fox 8 on Wednesday.

Shortly after the ruling her friends, family and co-workers vowed to fight to have the ruling changed.

"The Summit County Coroner made a mistake and something that my mom instilled in us at a very young age is that everyone is human and are going to make mistakes," said Johnson's son DeJon Newell shortly after the ruling was made.

The family's attorneys say there are multiple reasons for wanting the ruling changed.

"One of them being the harm that it has caused the family and the reputation of Tonya Johnson what they have to do through on a daily basis is excruciatingly painful," added Pierce.

Relatives claim that Johnson called a cousin moments before her death, asking the cousin to come pick her up on Rt. 8 and that could explain why she was trying to get to the northbound lanes.

DiPlain and Pierce say the change in the ruling to non-suicide, or an accident, is something that could easily be done with the stroke of a pen

You can read the entire lawsuit, here.

Continuing coverage here