June 16, 2003
State Police Trooper Killed in the Line of Duty
Officer Down: Sgt. Michael Johnson - [Bradford VSP, Vermont]
June 16, 2003
By ALAN J. KEAYS And JO-ANNE MACKENZIE Herald Staff
NORWICH — A 16-year Vermont State Police veteran was killed Sunday afternoon after being struck by a car on Interstate 91. Seven hours later police were still searching for the suspect in the case.
Sgt. Michael Johnson, 39, was pronounced dead at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., at 4:46 p.m., less than an hour after he was struck in the median of Interstate 91, near mile marker 78, south of the Thetford exit.
The car that struck Johnson, a black 1991 Nissan NX Coupe, was driven by Eric Daley, 23, of Lebanon, N.H. As of press time, police from a number of police agencies were involved in a manhunt for Daley.
Vermont State Police Trooper Michael Smith had stopped Daley’s car at 3:42 p.m. at mile marker 83 on Interstate 91 in Thetford. During the traffic stop, Daley took off and drove south, initiating a pursuit, police said.
Johnson was located about five miles south of the initial traffic stop. He put spike strips — designed to puncture a car’s tires — in the roadway and parked his police cruiser in the nearby crossover between the north- and southbound lanes, police said.
As Daley approached the spike strips, he swerved into the median and through the crossover, striking Johnson, police said. Daley’s black Nissan stopped in the northbound lane of Interstate 91 and he fled the scene on foot, according to police.
Troopers responding to the scene administered CPR to Johnson before he was transported to DHMC in nearby Lebanon, according to police. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Police issued a press release late Sunday night from Dartmouth-Hitchcock, where two troopers were working out of the hospital’s security office.
The troopers did not answer a reporter’s questions, saying only, “It’s been a difficult day.”
Interstate 91 north was closed at the Norwich exit. Orange traffic cones and a police cruiser barred traffic from continuing north on the highway, forcing motorists onto the exit ramp and a detour on Route 5.
The manhunt was organized out of the Norwich police station, not far from the interstate. The single-story modular building is situated by itself on Firehouse Lane. Norwich, a town of 3,200, is located in the northeastern corner of Windsor County and on the Vermont-New Hampshire border.
The police station parking lot was packed with police cruisers, with some vehicles spilling over onto the lawn. Cars and trucks were visible from many departments, including the Vermont State Police, the Norwich Police Department, the Windsor County Sheriff’s Department, and the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.
At about 8:30 Sunday evening, a helicopter was flying low overhead — part of the search for Daley.
A Norwich police officer said there was a police officer in the helicopter and that it had been in the air for about two hours at that point.
A number of officers were gathered outside the building, just as the sun was setting west of Route 5. Some of the officers were talking among themselves; others listened to police radios or talked on cellular phones.
At about 8:45 p.m., Vermont State Police Capt. Glenn Cutting came to the doorway of the police station and called all the officers inside.
About 15 minutes later, several officers hurried from the building and toward their cruisers. They were holding papers they appeared to show a black-and-white image of a man’s face. The officers left the parking lot in a hurry.
A woman drove into the parking lot shortly after, apparently in search of directions. She knocked on the station door, seeking information.
An officer answered the door and said, “Can’t talk now.”
“Take care and be safe,” the woman answered.
“Thanks, we’ll need it,” the officer replied before closing the door again.
By late Sunday night, the area was teeming with police — and few others. Dartmouth-Hitchcock was deserted, with no one staffing the information desk, and hallways and waiting areas were empty.
Norwich, too, appeared empty of all but police officers and their cruisers. As the night went on, the police presence became more apparent. The Lebanon (N.H.) Police Department had joined the search.
There were cruisers all along Interstates 89 and 91 in the White River Junction area. Every crossover was marked by a cruiser, as was nearly every intersection. A trooper was parked just over the bridge where the New Hampshire-Vermont State line is located.
Three police cruisers were stationed at the Vermont Transit bus terminal in White River Junction at 11:15 p.m. The officers approached a few cars while employees washed buses under the light of a bright moon, just full on Saturday night.
Late Sunday night, the interstate north of the Norwich exit remained closed. And by then, police had blocked the driveway to the Norwich Police station, too.
“You can’t go down there right now,” a police officer told a reporter.
The village of Norwich was swarming with police. Cruisers shone lights down driveways, into store windows and around the back sides of businesses.
Johnson was a member of Troop B, stationed at the Bradford State Police barracks, which covers parts of Caledonia and Orange counties.
Johnson was believed to be the first Vermont State Police officer to die in the line of duty since State Police diver Gary Gaboury drowned in May 1992, while helping to recover a body from Huntington Gorge.
Johnson was a patrol commander when he was killed on Father’s Day. He is survived by his wife, Kerry Johnson, and three children: daughter Reilly, 12, and sons Grady, 7, and McKendrick, 5.