MOUNT AIRY — Surry County has not escaped the Labor Day weekend without a traffic fatality, which involves a Mount Airy News employee being killed while helping to deliver her mother’s paper route.
Ashley Nicole Johnson, 27, of Mount Airy, was the victim of a single-vehicle accident Saturday morning at the intersection of U.S. 601 and U.S. 52 in the city as she and her father, Bobby Ray Johnson, 59, of Mount Airy, were finishing up the route.
City police say a 2008 Ford Escape SUV being driven by Bobby Johnson was northbound on U.S. 601 around 5:45 a.m., coming down the hill and headed through the intersection toward Northern Hospital of Surry County.
For reasons that authorities haven’t been able to pinpoint so far, the vehicle veered across the opposite lanes of U.S. 601 and hit a traffic signal post for the railroad crossing located there, near the southbound lanes.
“They struck it head-on,” Surry County Emergency Services Director John Shelton said of the SUV’s impact with the large metal fixture he said includes a pole where an arm is dropped to stop traffic when trains pass through.
“She was killed instantly on the scene,” Shelton added of Ashley Johnson.
Another source indicated that the main impact occurred to the front passenger side where she was riding.
The horrific collision required a lengthy extrication procedure to free the occupants, according to Shelton. One source said the top had to be cut off the SUV.
“It took a good 45 minutes to an hour to get them out of the vehicle,” Shelton said.
Ashley Johnson was pronounced dead at the scene.
Her critically injured father was taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center by the Surry County EMS. As of noontime Monday, Bobby Johnson had undergone three surgical procedures and was facing three more, according to a family member.
Possible medical cause
The cause of the accident was still under investigation Monday by the Mount Airy Police Department.
Shelton said a medical issue might have been involved, or Bobby Johnson possibly fell asleep at the wheel.
In addition to the city police and Surry EMS, the Mount Airy Fire Department and Mount Airy Rescue Squad assisted at the accident scene, which was littered by debris Monday.
A small floral arrangement had been placed at the site where the collision occurred.
“Dependable little girl”
Ashley Nicole Johnson was not a carrier with The Mount Airy News, but worked in its mailroom, where advertising inserts are placed in the region’s newspapers, including The Tribune and The Yadkin Ripple, and they are otherwise prepared for distribution.
She had worked there for three to four years, according to Martha Eaton, circulation manager.
“Ashley, she was a good worker, and she was a dependable little girl, too,” Eaton said Monday while also praising the reliable carrier service of Bobby Johnson, who often assisted with what officially was his wife Penny’s route.
“She had just had surgery on Friday,” Eaton said of Penny Johnson.
“Penny and Bobby are two of the best carriers I have and they are very dependable,” the circulation manager continued of the pair she said are quite self-reliant.
Because of her mother’s medical condition, Ashley, who lived with her parents, was helping her dad on the route delivering Saturday’s edition, which had only one stop more to go at the time of the early morning accident.
“I would have helped them that night,” Eaton said of her possibly filling in due to Penny Johnson’s surgery.
“But they never ask nobody for help.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.