Burying the blame: Daughter fights to clear her mother’s name

BRADFORD COUNTY, Fla. — A daughter is fighting to clear her mother’s name after she was killed in a car crash on her way to work at Florida State Prison.

The other driver involved, an employee at Union Correctional Institution, was found to have a blood alcohol content of nearly three times the legal limit, but he was determined not to be at fault.

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Hannah Anderson alleges the Florida Department of Corrections has spent years attempting to cover up its own failures that day.

On the shoulder of County Road 225 in Bradford County, you’ll find a memorial to former Florida State Prison Director of Nursing Sharon Johnson.

It’s a somber reminder of the violent crash that took Johnson’s life three years ago.

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“It’s been quite some time since I’ve been there because I don’t feel like that’s where my mom is. I don’t feel her presence there and I don’t ever want to remember the last of her being there,” said Anderson, Johnson’s daughter.

Anderson remembers finding it odd on the morning of April 23, 2019, that her mother hadn’t called her to tell her she’d gotten to work safely, as she did every morning.

“Ten to twenty minutes after I had that thought, I got a phone call telling me that my mom was dead,” Anderson said.

We obtained images of Johnson’s crippled vehicle taken after the collision with Union Correctional Institution employee Justin Stone, who was driving home from the prison at the time of the accident.

We obtained images of Sharon Johnson’s crippled vehicle taken after the collision with Union Correctional Institution employee Justin Stone, who was driving home from the prison at the time of the accident.

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Johnson was killed on impact.

“And the traffic report stated that my mom was at fault for this accident, which just seemed not correct,” Anderson said.

The crash report determined Sharon was at fault because the crash occurred in Stone’s lane.

On Dec. 9 that year, Anderson obtained the homicide traffic report.

It revealed Stone was nearly three times the legal limit the morning of the crash.

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“Right is right and wrong is wrong. We have a drunk driver and we have somebody that’s completely sober going to work,” Anderson said.

Court documents reveal Stone pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DUI the following year.

His license was suspended for six months, and he received one year of probation.

Anderson said she doesn’t believe justice was served.

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“Not at all. It was a slap in the face and an additional slap in the face to my mother,” Anderson said.

In January 2021, Anderson officially filed a wrongful death suit against the Department of Corrections.

“The claim that we’re pursuing against the Florida Department of Corrections is one of negligent supervision,” said Alexandria Avera, Anderson’s attorney.

Avera alleges employees at Union Correctional Institution failed to stop Stone from drinking on prison grounds in the hours leading up to the crash.

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After fighting with FDC for roughly a year, she was finally able to obtain an inspector general’s report documenting accounts of what went on in the prison that night.

“The facts that are included in that report very much align with our theory of the case,” Avera said.

The report documents Mason jars with cinnamon sticks were found in Stone’s vehicle and a number of guards testified they’d suspected Stone had been intoxicated.

“They were consuming alcohol. Specifically moonshine for the period of several hours on prison property, where their superiors and chain of command knew about it, but didn’t do anything to stop it,” Avera said.

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The report recommended no criminal charges for Stone but found multiple procedural failures.

Anderson said she believes if supervisors at the prison had stepped in that night, her mother would still be alive today.

“Absolutely. There’s no question,” Anderson said.

The court battle continues to this day.

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“I’ve gone through years of essentially trauma and agony fighting to clear my mom’s name after she was originally blamed for something she didn’t deserve,” Anderson said.

FDC declined to comment on the specifics of the case, due to the ongoing litigation. However, it did provide us with this statement:

“Every FDC staff member is held to the highest standards of accountability and professionalism while on and off-duty. FDC has zero tolerance for staff who act inappropriately and in contrary to our core values of respect, integrity, courage, selfless service, and compassion. Any willful breach of our values or participation in illegal activity by FDC staff will result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal and arrest, following due process. Individuals who are found to have acted outside of the standards of professionalism expected of FDC staff do not represent the thousands of other exemplary staff members across the state.”

But Avera argues that simply didn’t happen in this case.

“The Florida Department of Corrections has ducked responsibility for this left and right, has pointed the finger at Ms. Johnson, which was its own employee for some time. She was one of their own in a position of power at one of the state’s highest-level prisons. And instead of standing up for its own or doing the right thing by her and her family after this happened, instead it’s just been finger pointing,” Avera said.

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Stone was never charged with any crime aside from the misdemeanor DUI.

He remained an employee at Union Correctional Institution for nearly a year after the crash before he was finally terminated.

He did not respond to our efforts to reach him for comment on this story.

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