Former Coupeville dermatologist killed in accident at Deception Pass
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
February 14, 2012 · Updated 2:18 PM
A former Coupeville dermatologist who recently made headlines for domestic violence was killed early Sunday morning in a gruesome accident near Deception Pass Bridge.
Donald “Russell” Johnson, 53, was thrown from his car after crashing it into a rock embankment and was run over by the trooper who had been pursuing him for speeding and reckless driving.
Johnson pleaded guilty last Thursday to two counts of fourth-degree domestic violence assault and one count of violating a domestic violence restraining order. He was accused of choking his girlfriend and threatening to kill her at their Cornet Bay home Sept. 6.
Johnson was sentenced to the 113 days he already served and released from jail.
Just before 6 a.m. Sunday, Trooper Jason Knott with the Washington State Patrol saw Johnson speeding and driving recklessly in his 2000 Toyota Celica on Cornet Bay Road, just east of Highway 20.
According to Trooper Mark Francis, the public information officer, Knott tried to pull the Celica over, but Johnson didn’t yield. The Celica was clocked at 78 mph at one point during the pursuit.
Knott pursued the car as it turned north on Highway 20. He lost sight of the car in the 30 mph zone and was just about to terminate the pursuit when the accident occurred, according to Francis.
Out of the trooper’s sight, Johnson drove across the oncoming lane of traffic, struck a rock embankment just north of the bridge and was ejected from the car; he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Johnson was lying in the northbound lane while his car was in the other lane.
The trooper came around the curve and struck Johnson. He was pronounced dead at the scene shortly afterward.
Francis said Trooper Knott was understandably upset by the accident, but likely won’t go on administrative leave.
“He was pretty shaken, as you can imagine,” Francis said, adding that he was taken home by his sergeant.
Francis said the accident is considered alcohol-related because of the odor of alcohol at the scene, but toxicology tests will be conclusive.
The bridge was closed for about five hours, Francis said, while detectives with the State Patrol investigated the scene.
Island County Animal Control Officer Carol Barnes was called to the scene to deal with a dog in Johnson’s car. She said the cattle dog was scared, but not injured. The dog was later picked up by a member of Johnson’s family.
The tragedy is the ending of a year of trouble and catastrophe for Dr. Johnson, who was considered a very talented dermatologist in the medical community and a respected member of the business community.
His wife, a Langley resident, filed for divorce about a year ago; in court files, she claimed Johnson had married another woman, Marianne Baker, without first divorcing her.
Last summer Johnson abruptly closed his popular dermatology clinics and skin-care spas in both Coupeville and Anacortes. The Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission was investigating Johnson for alleged patient abandonment.
In addition, Johnson was sued by his former landlord and owed large amounts of money to the IRS, according to court documents.
Johnson assaulted Baker in the morning of Sept. 6 at their home on Cornet Bay. She told detectives that things had been tense between the two of them because of problems with his failed medical practice, his drinking and bouts of depression.
Johnson originally bailed out of jail after his arrest, but then was taken back into custody because he violated a no-contact order by sending Baker an email. Johnson bailed out for a few days in December, but was brought back to jail after his bonding company withdrew his bond.
Johnson was finally freed after pleading guilty last Thursday. His attorneys had said that Johnson planned on fighting the state’s suspension of his medical license and wanted to go back to practicing medicine.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said Baker consented to the plea bargain offered to Johnson. But she called the office over the weekend and left a message reporting that Johnson had contacted her, which would have been another violation of the no-contact order, according to Banks. The alleged violation could have landed Johnson back in jail once again.
The exact cause of Dr. Johnson’s death will be determined by Island County Coroner Robert Bishop, who as of Tuesday, had not made an announcement.
Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.