Family tragedy: Mother charged in crash that kills daughter, ex-husband

Twenty-year-old Amber Leigh Johnson is known for her friendliness and her smile. Her photograph captures that, and it seems jarring to be on the obituary page.

The smile is the first thing her boss, Mark Hurley at Cheeseburger in Paradise, mentions, along with her energy. He was particularly impressed she was going to Piedmont Virginia Community College while working full time.

On November 10, after having dinner at Cheeseburger in Paradise with her mother and father, Amber Johnson's dreams of working with children in medicine abruptly came to an end.

Her mother, Jessica Lewis, is still hospitalized from the accident that killed her daughter and her ex-husband, Michael Wayne Johnson, 40, on Half Branch Road in Crozet. Police say Lewis, 36, of Crimora, was driving too fast and had been drinking when she slammed into a tree on the narrow country road just south of King Family Vineyards.

Lewis has been charged with driving under the influence. Police are awaiting the results of a blood alcohol test, and say additional charges are pending. When driving and drinking result in death, manslaughter charges are typical, says Sergeant Darrell Byers with Albemarle police.

The Kia Optima Lewis was driving was crushed and the engine was on fire when father and son Warren and Robert Wood arrived.

"I live about three minutes from there," says Warren Wood, a 25-year volunteer with the Crozet Fire Department. "I responded in my personal vehicle."

Despite the risks of going into a burning car, Wood pulled the three out, handing them to his son, a former firefighter. "There was a little difficulty in getting them out," says Warren Wood. "Fire was coming from the dashboard when I took the second person out." He says all three were alive, and that Jessica Lewis was conscious and in obvious pain.

"I've been asked by police not to talk about the location of the people in the car or their condition," says Wood, who adds that there's information about the accident that has not been released.

That rescue was not enough to save Amber and Michael Johnson, who were airlifted to UVA Medical Center and pronounced dead there.

"Thursday night, neither me or my son slept," says Wood.

Amber Johnson, a 2009 Western Albemarle High School grad, impressed the scholarship committee at St. Paul's Ivy her senior year.

"We're looking for students who are clearly committed to furthering their education," says Pat Greene, who works on the church's scholarship program. "Secondly, we're looking for students who express a desire for an education, not just to help themselves, but to help the community. Amber impressed us with her interest in helping children and her commitment to community and service."

Initially, says Greene, Amber wanted to be a pediatric dental technician, but had shifted to PVCC's program in sonography. "She was absolutely committed to finishing this program," says Greene, who spoke to Amber about five weeks ago.

"She presented herself so well and was so poised," remembers Greene. "She worked so hard to stay in school. She was a young woman of so much promise."

Amber made such an impression on her coworkers at Cheeseburger in Paradise, where she had worked for almost a year, that Cheeseburger crews came in from Fredericksburg and Newport News November 15 to cover for the local staff so they could all attend her funeral at Mount Ed Baptist Church in Batesville.

"I've never seen such an effect on people," says Mark Hurley. "I've never lost an employee like that."

Hurley says Amber's infectious smile and personality impressed him from the beginning, but other skills, like showing up on time, were more problematic, and after about six months, "I actually fired her," he says. "She came back two days later. She was so sincere, and when I hired her back, her work ethic changed. I am so fortunate she came back."

The last night Amber was in the restaurant was the first time Hurley met her mother, but he had met her father, Michael Johnson, before. "They had this incredible bond," says Hurley. "There's nothing greater than a father-daughter relationship."

The Reverend Ronald Nickell has known the Johnson family for nearly 40 years, and remembers Amber's father, Michael Johnson, as a "little bitty fellow" when he first came to Mount Ed Baptist Church.

"He always had a smile and a greeting," says Nickell. "He was very good at what he does in the electrical field and as a contractor."

The last time he saw Amber a few weeks ago, she had to leave Sunday School early to go to work. "She was a very friendly girl, a loving girl, who loved her family," says Nickell, mentioning Amber's sister and three half-brothers.

On Monday, Nickell was preparing for the double funeral service that he was going to officiate the next day.

"This is a hard one for me to put together," he admits. "It's a tragedy."


Perhaps it is too bad that the restaurant didn't recognize that they may have served the driver one too many...........

Perhaps individuals should be responsible for their own actions not reliant upon every one to tell them how to act.

Restaurant employees really can't tell in most cases. I have seen people blow 2 and 3 times the legal limit and you can't even tell they have been drinking. Especially if the drinkers are sitting down and not moving around a lot so as to be seen stumbling and off balanace. And even more disturbing, especially people who are borderline or full blown alcoholics, they tolerate the alcohol better than Sally who might have a glass or two of wine once a year.

This of course is why field sobriety tests exist.... so the cops can determine if a person has had too much to drink. Text messaging, sleepiness, inattention and poor driving skills may get you stopped for suspicion of DUI, but the field sobriety tests confirm it.

CVILLER- you are correct, just said "perhaps". She may not have been impaired.

GSOE- What might be more disturbing and unfortunate is that if the driver was impaired, that Amber and Michael let her drive, got into the car, or even stayed in the car....perhaps they had no clue.

It is odd, but there were some comments from people on other sites yesterday (11/14) that BAC came back as 0.00. Not sure of credibility; but even if she had one glass an hour before, there would still be some (small) BAC, correct?

I am more curious of the speed factor; from what I have heard, the damage to the car indicated some pretty radical speed and little braking. Odd.

Perhaps, it was a total accident, a problem with the car a deer, her foot got hung for whatever reason. We will never know everything that happened but I can bet anything that the mother that was driving would never have done anything to hurt her own daughter. They can send her to jail for the rest of her life and it will not compare to what goes through her own mind, and one beer of no kind makes you so drunk that you drive like a fool. It seems a woman at her age with her ex husband and her daughter would be able to say don't drive the car, I am sure they have known her long enough to know how intoxicated she was. Please lets wait to hear all the facts, there are no winners in this tragic situation.

Perhaps the driver has never been very good with decision making. after all she was 36 and her daughter was 20... do the math.

@ former virginianeer - Who cares how old she was when she had her daughter??? She still is a MOTHER that just lost her DAUGHTER!!! Have some sympathy. You must not be a parent, as any parent, any human actually, would have sympathy and not just jump to conclusions before facts are revealed.

The estates of both should get an attorney/executor to sue the driver/mother even if she is the mother/ ex wife (more the reason to sue). To cover funeral bills and last expenses.

Unfortunately, local news sites have reported this story with much bias and without always checking facts. As a result, many people have responded with bias, judgement, and malice. Not only did the BAC come back as 0.00, but Jessica Lewis is grieving for the loss of her daughter more than any of you could ever know. I know this, because she is my cousin. The judgemental villifying of her is incredibly difficult for our family. We are also grieving for the loss of our cousin / daughter / sister / friend.

What I don't understand is if your blood level was 0.00 why such harsh charges?

Deleted by moderator.

"BAC" stands for "blood alcohol content". It dosen't measure cocaine, twinkies, or diet pepsi. OK?

" the math."

Stuff it hippie.

I wish some news outlet in this town would press the PD or explain to us non-legal folk (my area of expertise is tickling the ivories and wearing sequins) why the DUI...if her AC is 0.00, then what was she UI of? And Former Va'eer does have a point, as callous as it seems.

Speaking of that, RIP Charlie Callas!

A mother just lost her daughter and people are babbling about how old she was when she had her???? Nobody is perfect!! However, she obviously raised her as best she could given the facts that her daughter was a wonderful person and had such a bright future. That's what's wrong with this world today. Some people are so quick to judge the book by it's cover when they really have no clue what they are talking about. HAVE A HEART PEOPLE!

Perhaps it is truthfully not for you all to judge. No one has all the proof so who do you really think you are to make such stupid remarks it makes your ignorance shine brightly for the world to see. Why instead can't you put your energy into suporting the family and friends left grieving???? Praying for all this horrific tragidy has touch may you find peace and remember all the great times you shared.

she was going at least 85mph, drunk or not drunk, that is just plain stupid
"She was going a minimum of 85 miles per hour," says Hackney. He says he makes that claim from the yaw marks on the road, which leave a distinct pattern from which police can calculate an approximate speed.