Witnesses: Woman was speeding before her car struck officers

Kim Johnston, 46, charged in DUI crash that killed bailiff, injured 3 others

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter, Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Corley Peel - Reporter

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - Kim Johnston had watery, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and an odor of alcohol on her breath early Sunday morning after she was in a crash on Interstate 95 that killed a Jacksonville officer, seriously injured her husband, also a JSO officer, and hurt their two kids, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.

Johnston, 46, initially declined to undergo a field sobriety test, but then did when told this would be a criminal case. She failed the test.

Johnston refused to take a Breathalyzer or submit to a blood draw, and asked for a lawyer right away. When she was taken to Flagler Hospital, troopers said she told medical personnel she drank two beers earlier in the evening.

It took a court order to get a blood sample, which was drawn just after 7 a.m. -- nearly six hours after the crash. That sample was sent for toxicology testing.

Cathy Adams, a court bailiff with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, died hours later at Memorial Hospital. William “Jack” Adams, her husband, had to be cut out of his SUV and was also taken to Memorial in critical condition. Court documents show Jack Adams may have paralyzing injuries, but Memorial Hospital representatives said Wednesday that he was improving and had been upgraded to serious and stable condition.

Johnston was charged with two counts of DUI with serious bodily injury, but posted $100,000 bond Monday and was released from the St. Johns County jail late Monday afternoon.

According to the Highway Patrol, Johnston was driving under the influence in an Acura on I-95 north between State Road 16 and International Golf Parkway around 1:15 a.m. Sunday when she crashed into a Chevrolet Tahoe carrying the husband, wife and two children. The impact caused the SUV to overturn after crossing several lanes of traffic.

A witness told FHP investigators she saw Johnston driving the car that struck the SUV, which was reported passing cars at a high rate of speed. One witness estimated she was going close to 90 mph.

WATCH: New details in wreck that left JSO bailiff dead

The report quoted another witness who said she “traveled off the roadway to the inside emergency shoulder and over-corrected back to the right resulting in a loss of control and collision into the Chevrolet SUV.”

"I saw the car lose control and then, the next thing I knew, I saw another vehicle’s taillights fly into the air and that’s when I noticed the vehicle had flipped," witness Chris Snyder told News4Jax. "The first thought that came to my head was to pull over and check on everyone. My mom called 911. My dad and I got out and approached the vehicle and when I was approaching, I saw Mrs. Cathy laying on the ground and I said, 'Ma’am,' to try and get her to respond to me."

Snyder and his family got the kids out of the car and keep talking to Jack Adams to try to keep him coherent and attentive until rescue personnel arrived and could get him out.

"We were just trying to keep them calm and try to help them the best we could," Snyder said.

Snyder said that as they were tending to those injured in the SUV, the driver of the Acura, now known to be Johnston, tried to move her car, but his parents stopped her.

"She was disoriented, slurred speech and had all the appearances of being under the influence of alcohol," Snyder said. "But considering what had just happened, it was possible it was shock."

When troopers initially found Johnston, they said she was leaning against the guardrail. When asked for her identification, she fumbled through her purse and couldn't find it.

READ: Community support pours in after loss of JSO bailiff

During her first appearance in court on Monday, Johnston appeared to bow her head when she heard the prosecutor tell the judge that Cathy Adams had died.

The judge ordered that Johnston not drive without a valid driver's license or permit and that she surrender her passport to the court. The FHP has said more charges might be filed against Johnston.

Troopers ask anyone who has information or who witnessed the crash to dial *347 or call 904-359-6572 and ask to speak with THI investigators.

A check of Johnston's St. Johns County driving record turned up five speeding tickets in less than two years from March 2004 to January 2006. She was also cited for failure to yield in November 2014. She completed driving school in Florida for some of the cases, which keeps points from being added to a driver's license.

Johnston told authorities that a pre-existing injury prevented her from doing the field sobriety tests. News4Jax learned she was involved in a crash four years ago. Johnston sued the driver that hit her for an undisclosed settlement. The I-TEAM also learned Johnston sued Miller's Ale House two years ago, claiming that a chair she had been sitting in broke, causing her serious injury.

Johnston was a part-time contractor who worked about 15 hours a week at Oakleaf Chiropractic and Injury Center. She was hired just last month, and also worked at other clinics around the area.

The owner of Oakleaf Chiropractic said Johnston is now ineligible to practice because she's charged with a felony, which affects her state certification. She no longer works for that company.

Johnston’s former boss also said the company conducts extensive background checks on all employees and that Johnston was previously a respected member of the chiropractic community in Jacksonville.

The owner said the Oakleaf clinic treats many police officers and everyone on the staff sends their condolences to those involved.

The following statement was posted online:

We at Oakleaf Chiropractic and Injury Center (formerly Oakleaf Family Chiropractic) regretfully must say that a member of our staff has made a terrible choice during her personal time that led to a horrific crash and loss of life. She had recently joined us just a few weeks ago, and we conduct an extensive criminal background check on all employees, and she previously has been a respected member of the chiropractic community throughout Jacksonville for many years.
- Oakleaf Chiropractic and Injury Center

Johnston's friends seemed stunned that she was accused of DUI in the deadly crash.

"All I can say is that Kim is a caring and loving person who has supported police since I've known her. She's always been a responsible person. I feel for both families who lost a member and one who will have regrets for (the) remainder of her life. It affects everyone," Sherry Day said.

A former client, who declined to be named, said she and Johnston became friends after Johnston performed acupuncture on her 12 years ago.

"Kim is a great person who really cares about others," the woman said. "I am very sorry for her and the Adams family."

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