Former mayor of Mount Airy killed in accident on Interstate 70

Gerald R. Johnson served 3 terms in Carroll town

March 06, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai and Jennifer McMenamin | Athima Chansanchai and Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Gerald R. Johnson, a former three-term Mount Airy mayor and retired high school teacher, was killed in a car accident on Interstate 70 on Thursday night, Maryland State Police said.

Johnson, 70, was westbound in the middle lane of I-70 west of Quinn Road when a car driven by Sarah K. Miller, 18, attempted to change lanes, state police said.

Authorities said that about 7 p.m., Miller's 1995 Toyota Celica struck Johnson's 1989 Ford Bronco from behind, pushing the sport utility vehicle onto the shoulder and causing it to roll over several times. It came to rest upside down at the base of an embankment, police said. Miller's car spun out of control after the collision, but did not hit any other vehicles.

Johnson was pronounced dead at the scene. His wife, Patricia Roher Johnson, 60, was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, police said. She was listed in good condition yesterday.

Miller, of the 500 block of Edward St. in Johnstown, Pa., and the two passengers in her car, Shawn W. Byers and Brittany L. Sapolich, both 18 and from Johnstown, were taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital and released.

State police at the Frederick barracks charged Miller with unsafe lane change and negligent driving. The misdemeanor charges carry a maximum $500 fine each.

State police at the Frederick barracks said there was no indication that speeding, drugs or alcohol were factors in the accident, which closed the westbound and eastbound lanes of I-70 for several hours.

The news of Johnson's death stunned former colleagues.

"It gives you pause on how fragile life is," said John P. Medve, president of the Mount Airy Town Council. "He's going to be missed very much by the community."

Carroll County Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. described the former Mount Airy mayor as someone who cared deeply about issues affecting the town, including growth, economic development and tourism. When he was mayor of Union Bridge, Jones served on the Maryland Municipal League's board of directors with Johnson for four years.

"We traveled up and down from Mount Airy to Annapolis," Jones said. "We became very good friends. ... He'll be missed by a lot of people."

A native of a Pennsylvania farm town, Johnson and his wife moved to Mount Airy in 1963 to start a family. One year earlier, he had begun what was to be a 30-year career at Damascus High School in Montgomery County.

He decided to run for mayor - a $2,500-a-year job - as he neared retirement.

"I felt this was my home and my boys' home - they were born and raised here - and I felt maybe I could give something back to the town," he told The Sun in 2000. "Being mayor is basically a volunteer job."

When residents called Town Hall to report dead or unusual animals in their yards, from deer and raccoons to a 10-foot boa constrictor - it was often Johnson who took the call.

After bagging a raccoon in a resident's yard, Johnson was asked whether he was the town's animal control officer.

"I laughed and said, `I guess you could say that, yes,'" recalled Johnson, an avid hunter.

During his last term, residents became increasingly critical of Johnson, whom they blamed for annexations that brought thousands of new residents to town. Critics rallied behind write-in candidate James S. Holt when he opposed Johnson in the May 2002 mayoral election.

Johnson won by 181 votes and swore himself in, even as Holt supporters appealed to a Carroll County Circuit Court judge for the addition of 259 votes discarded by the town's Board of Elections because the ballots contained only Holt's last name. Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. overturned the result of the election in July 2002.

Former Mount Airy Town Council President Frank Johnson said that how Gerald Johnson handled the defeat was among his finest moments. The two are not related.

When the council approached Gerald Johnson about appealing the judge's decision, "Gerry had already cleaned out his desk," Frank Johnson said. "He said that the community had been through enough. He allowed the community to move forward."

Sun staff writers Hanah Cho and Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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