Family of Canton firefighter protests suicide ruling

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

CANTON, Ohio -- The family of a Canton firefighter who was killed on state Route 8 in February held a press conference today, a week after the Summit County Medical Examiner's Office ruled the woman's death a suicide.

Family, friends and co-workers of 43-year-old Tonya Johnson rallied in front of Summit County Medical Examiner's office Monday morning. They say they want the ruling of her death to be changed from suicidal to accidental.

"The Summit County Coroner made a mistake," Tonya's son, DeJon Newell, said. "My mom taught us we are supposed to be held accountable for those mistakes. The coroner needs to be held responsible."

Johnson, a mother of three and Canton firefighter, got out of her husband's car on Route 8 in Akron on Feb. 22 and jumped over the median. That's when she was hit by a pickup truck.

Authorities say she was arguing with her husband of just a few weeks before she got out.

The Summit County Medical Examiner's Office said Johnson died from blunt force trauma to the head and the manner of death was suicide.

The family now wants it to be ruled accidental because right before her death they say she called a family member to come and pick her up and she was trying to get to the side of the road to get in that car.

The family says the medical examiner did not reach out to family members or friends before giving the ruling but instead just went off facts of the case, witnesses and her husband.

"No, no they didn't know my my mom," Johnson's daughter, Temaria Johnson, said. "I didn't understand when I found out. How can this be? My family told me the ruling is how I see it. So my ruling is it wasn't suicide."

The family says Johnson and her husband were returning from filing divorce papers when the fight happened.

The family says Johnson's husband did sign a prenup before the marriage but in the manner of Tonya's death he gets 1/3 of the estate.

The Summit County Medical Examiner's Office released the following statement on Monday:

"As previously released, the Summit County Medical Examiner's Office has determined that the manner of death for Ms Tonya R. Johnson on February 22, 2016 was a suicide and the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. The determination was made following, and as a result of, the Summit County Medical Examiner's lengthy investigation and examination, as well as the investigation of the Akron Police Department. This Office is aware that Ms. Johnson's family disputes the determination of the manner of death and is further aware that Ohio law provides a legal process for challenging the determination of the manner of death. Because the family may choose to pursue the legal process for challenging the determination of the manner of death, this Office will provide no further comment on this matter to the public."

Earlier, a press release from the family stated:


"Johnson climbed over the center divider, so she could be easily seen by those she called to pick her up.

Although she had maintained her safety to this point, upon crossing the divider, Johnson misjudged the rates of speed and driving maneuvers of oncoming vehicles and was unable to evade the oncoming traffic. Moreover, the family will explain that Johnson exhibited none of the common warning signs of suicide as outlined by mental health professionals: excessive sadness, hopelessness, withdrawal, changes in personality or appearance, dangerous or self-harming behavior, recent trauma or life crisis, or making preparation among others.

To the contrary, Johnson exhibited future-oriented behaviors – setting personal goals, making plans for her business, and laying a framework for her life after having served the community for 18 years as a firefighter."

“This ruling is devastating to our family, her coworkers, and the community,” said Trevon Boone, the oldest of Johnson’s three children. “We will continue to challenge the medical examiner’s ruling until it properly reflects the events of that tragic evening – and the life and strength of the mother, daughter, friend, and co-worker that we all knew and loved.”

Continuing coverage here. 

Stick with Fox 8 and for more.