Trooper William Finn, a spokesman with the Washington State Patrol, was tweeting Wednesday under the handle @wspd5pio about an accident on Vancouver’s Interstate 205.
A car was traveling northbound when it crossed the grass median into the southbound lane, striking a pick-up truck, head on.
At 2:11 p.m. PT, Finn tweeted, “Vancouver – SB 205 @ Padden – Fatality collision. WB Padden to SB 205 is closed. Right lane SB 205 also closed in area. Use alt route!”
About 10 minutes earlier, Caran Johnson, a local scanner aficionado and a follower of Finn’s on Twitter, had learned about the accident. She turned to the micro-blogging site to post new details and to reach out to her community.
“this accident sounds horrible,” she wrote in a tweet posted at 2:01 p.m. PT under the handle @ScanCouver.
Finn was at the accident scene gathering information. Before him lay the wreckage of a 2005 silver four-door Hyundai Elantra. Inside, the driver was dead.
At 2:17 p.m. PT, Johnson posted, “I’m trying not to panic, but my husband left work early and he drives 205 to get home. he’s not answering his phone.”
Desperate to contact her husband, or at least rule out the possibility that he was involved in the crash, Johnson reached out to Finn, like she had done many times before when trying to gather information about an accident.
“I may tweet something and she may tweet back. One night we exchanged a recipe for a low carb pizza,” said Finn, who has never met Johnson.
At 2:20 p.m. PT, Johnson sent a tweet to Finn, “@wspd5pio do you have descriptions of involved vehicles?”
“@ScanCouver sorry. Not yet.,” Finn replied.
“It was terrible,” the spokesman told CNN later.
“Immediately, I went into overdrive mode and I stopped tweeting the whole thing. I didn’t want someone to find out over Twitter that their husband passed away. I didn’t want her to find out that way. That is a hard thing to go through,” he said.
Finn would normally tweet a photo of the crash scene.
“I didn’t put a picture on Twitter just in case that was her husband,” he said.
At 3:50 p.m. PT, Johnson’s tweet confirmed her fears.
“it’s him. he died,” she posted for the world to read.
Johnson’s husband, Craig, was the only fatality in the accident. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
A woman driving a second car involved in the incident was taken to a hospital with serious injuries, a broken femur and a collapsed lung.
“I feel terrible. I still feel terrible,” Finn said. “Our hearts go out to the family. This person was a member of our community and we just lost him.”