Police: Kennewick man was driving 72 mph when he hit pedestrian

Tri-City HeraldMay 22, 2014 

— A motorist is accused of driving at least 72 mph when he hit a pedestrian crossing a busy Kennewick street.

Michael S. Johnson, 46, was charged Thursday with vehicular homicide for Nina Howard's death April 8.

Kennewick police concluded "the collision would not have occurred had (Johnson) been traveling more slowly as he would have been able to stop prior to hitting Ms. Howard," court documents said.

That came after talking to witnesses and taking measurements at the scene, particularly of "lengthy skid marks," documents said.

The posted speed limit on that section of West 27th Avenue, west of the Ely Street intersection, is 40 mph. The road at that point has two eastbound lanes and one westbound lane.

Howard, 52, of Kennewick, was not in a crosswalk. She was pronounced dead by Kennewick paramedics.

Johnson of Kennewick was arrested after the crash and held in the Benton County jail for several days on an investigative hold. Prosecutors then released him and opted not to file charges until more investigation could be done.

The vehicular homicide charge filed Thursday is for driving in a reckless manner and/or with disregard for the safety of others, causing Howard's death.

Johnson has been sent an order to appear in court June 5 to enter a plea to the charge.

According to court documents, detectives got surveillance video from the nearby 27th Avenue Self Storage showing Howard crossing the street from the north to the south and reaching the center turn lane of the road before suddenly turning back to the north.

Detectives said it appeared on the video as if Howard was running in an attempt to get out of the street.

A westbound motorist reportedly had an obstructed view of the 4:06 p.m. collision, and told officers he saw the woman crossing the street between his own car and the approaching eastbound white car.

He saw the woman stop, turn around and head back northbound at the same time as the white car -- later identified as Johnson's 1966 Chevy Nova -- moved into the turn lane, documents said.

That motorist reported seeing the front of the Chevy strike Howard, then slide sideways across the westbound lane before coming to a stop, documents said.

Several other witnesses reportedly made similar statements to police, and Officer Lee Cooper noted the Chevy's front end damage when he arrived at the crash site.

Johnson, in an interview with police, said he just picked up the Chevy from an auto shop after having work done on it. He and his son, Aaron Johnson, were driving home with the father following his son's Ford Mustang on 27th.

Michael Johnson initially told police he was traveling between 35 and 40 mph. He said he had moved into the right lane behind his son to pass a commercial truck, then moved back into the left lane to pass his son, court documents said.

That's when the Chevy slammed into Howard.

Johnson later admitted he could have been driving over the speed limit, but he didn't know because the speedometer on the Chevy wasn't working, documents said.

Aaron Johnson, 18, estimated that his father's car was going 60 to 70 mph when he heard his father "come off the throttle and brake hard," earlier court documents showed.

Officer Cooper determined that 72 mph was the minimum possible speed for the Chevy at the time of the crash.

Three witnesses traveling in the same direction as the Chevy and Ford reported that the cars appeared to be "street racing."

One motorist described the Chevy -- which has collector vehicle plates -- as "reckless" before hitting Howard, and two other motorists said the two cars were not signaling as they changed lanes and pulled away from traffic.

It is not clear where Howard was going.

Her boyfriend of two years, Xaysy Bounxou, previously told the Herald she was heading to the LAO Buddhist Temple. She routinely took the bus to a nearby stop and crossed the street to get to the temple for daily prayer between 4 and 5 p.m.

However, the temple is on the north side of 27th Street, and witness reports have her walking in the opposite direction southbound.

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