Police: Terrain hid body of motorist missing for two years
Terry Johnson’s body decomposed for two years near the top of Independence Pass as thousands of motorists drove by just a few hundred yards away.Then Gerald Bennett, a hunter from Granby scouting the area out, found Johnson’s jaw bone. Bennett called the sheriff’s office in Leadville, and the mystery of Johnson, a Boulder man who disappeared in late September 2002, began to unravel.According to the investigation report, Lake County Sheriff Ed Holte and two deputies hiked into the scene on Sept. 20 and found more of Johnson’s remains, his mangled Mazda Miata and a fanny pack with his driver’s license. They also found bone fragments, a belt buckle and remnants of his clothing.The report indicates Johnson was traveling too fast to negotiate the final hairpin turn at the top of the east side of the pass. After losing control, he careened off the shoulder and over a cliff. The car continued down the mountainside until it hit a tree.Diana Holte, dispatch supervisor for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, said Johnson and his car remained out of sight for so long because the forest and the geography conspired to hide the accident scene from everyone but the hunter.The thick stand of trees that checked Johnson’s fall kept his body and car hidden from drivers on the switchback below. And the cliff that Johnson and his Mazda Miata went over kept him from the sight of motorists coming down from the pass summit.In the week after Johnson’s body was found, the accident scene was secured and police brought in a dog trained to find people or body parts. “We found everything possible [of Johnson’s remains],” Diana Holte said.On Sunday, the car was hauled back up the cliff it carried Johnson over.The investigation report indicates Johnson was traveling faster than the 30-mph speed limit when he lost control on that final turn. Signs leading up to the turn clearly indicate that it is extremely sharp and requires drivers to slow to 10 mph.”If you don’t do what the speed limit sign says, nine times out of 10 you’re going to lose,” Diana Holte said.Johnson’s jaw was sent to a lab in Jefferson County to confirm his identification with dental records.