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Family sues medical examiner, does not believe Canton firefighter committed suicide on Route 8

Posted at 4:02 PM, Feb 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-22 17:15:49-05

On the afternoon of February 22, 2016, a Canton firefighter and mother of three was hit and killed by a car on Route 8 in Akron.

Tonya Johnson's death was ruled a suicide, but her family is now fighting the ruling through a lawsuit.

Exactly one year after the tragic incident, attorneys representing the Johnson family sued the Summit County Medical Examiner.

The complaint, filed in Summit County Common Pleas Court, asks the a judge to change Dr. Lisa Kohler's ruling

Attorneys for the family believe evidence shows Johnson wasn't trying to take her own life on Feb. 22, 2016, when she walked into traffic. 

"I just don't understand why people would think that she would take her own life because you guys just don't know how much it wasn't her," said her 13-year-old daughter," Temaria Johnson.

Johnson's family is convinced her actions were actually a desperate attempt to get off the highway. 

"My mom would not have ever done that in a million years," said her son, Dejon Newell.

In a statement last year, Dr. Kohler said the suicide manner of death was made as a result of a lengthy examination and investigation by the Summit County Medical Examiner's officer, as well as the investigation by the Akron Police Department.

Still, the family argues the death should be changed to 'accidental.'

"She made her decision before she even started her investigation and we're going to hold her accountable for that," said family attorney David DuPlain. "For a finding of suicide, Ohio law requires that suicide be the only reasonable explanation. In the case of Tonya Johnson, it is far more likely that she was attempting to cross a busy road."

Police reported Johnson had argued with her husband of just nine days, got out of the car, ran across Route 8, jumped the concrete barrier and was killed by a truck headed northbound. 

Tonya's cousin, Regina Skinner, said there was more to the story. 

Johnson had just signed paperwork in Cleveland to dissolve her marriage and, while on Route 8, she called Skinner and asked to be picked up. 

"I felt that her life was in jeopardy, that she had to get out of that car, and to call me and come get her," said Skinner.

But a short time later, Johnson was dead. 

The suicide ruling means the family can't collect on one of Johnson's life insurance policies worth $3 million, but DuPlain said the family collect a large amount of money on other policies.

"The family deserves to be paid the life insurance policy. This is the exact circumstance in which a life insurance policy should be paid," said Danielle Pierce, another attorney for the family.

Dr. Kohler and Summit County Law Director, Deb Matz, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also names a life insurance company, Akron police officers and the city of Akron as defendants.