Emeryville man 'shocked' by CHP response after partner's death

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday December 21, 2023
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Jamie Summers, left, is shown with his partner, John Donohie, in a photo taken before Summer's death in late September. Photo: Courtesy John Donohie
Jamie Summers, left, is shown with his partner, John Donohie, in a photo taken before Summer's death in late September. Photo: Courtesy John Donohie

A gay Emeryville man is raising concerns about the California Highway Patrol's response to a crash just before the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge that killed his partner of eight years.

"I am shocked by some of the things they did," John Donohie, 61, told the Bay Area Reporter in a phone interview earlier this month.

Donohie's partner, Jamie Summers, 69, a chiropractor and body worker, was killed in a vehicle crash September 28 just past the metering lights on the Bay Bridge.

"Jamie was on his way to get Thai food for takeout," Donohie said. "He said, 'I'll see you in 30 minutes' and that was it — never heard from him again."

According to the CHP, officers were dispatched at 8:01 p.m. that night. The single-car crash involved a 2011 Kia Soul that was found overturned on the left hand shoulder approaching the bridge.

"Mr. Summers was found in the vehicle and emergency crews worked to extricate him in order to render care," CHP Officer Mark Andrews stated to the B.A.R. "Unfortunately, Mr. Summers succumbed to his injuries. The crash is still under investigation."

Donohie said that his partner had not intended to go to San Francisco.

"He missed our exit coming from downtown Oakland to Emeryville," Donohie said. "If you miss it, it automatically feeds you onto the bridge — that's why he was on the bridge."

Donohie said he found out about Summers' death when he got a call from the CHP.

"All he could tell me was (I assume because we were not legally-fucking-married) that they tried to resuscitate the driver and couldn't," Donohie stated to the B.A.R.

The CHP told Donohie that the couple's dog, Bijou, a standard poodle puppy, had also died.

"They [CHP] said they 'had her [Bijou] off to the side, but she got away,' as if that was OK and acceptable. I was told by a CHP officer that 'she started walking back toward the city streets (Oakland),'" Donohie stated in an email to the B.A.R. "When I started asking more questions about my dog and why they couldn't keep her safe, he hung up on me."

Donohie had a friend take him to the bridge.

"I found our pup dead in the road, just before the toll booths," he stated. "The accident happened a few hundred feet after the metering lights. She was hit by a car and killed. I picked up her body and brought her home. It has been incredibly traumatic for me to lose both of my loves, my whole family, as a gay man, at the same time."

Donohie stated that CHP called him about two weeks later.

"A little late if you ask me," he said. "I asked him how many responders were at the scene. He told me that between CHP, police, fire department, and EMTs, there were probably around 15 professional responders. He himself was also on the scene. I told him that I thought it was unconscionable and incredibly irresponsible that among 15 first responders, none of them could keep my dog safe. I said to him that I know that the CHP, fire department, police, and EMTs don't hire stupid people but that this is indescribably unacceptable."

Donohie stated that CHP told him Bijou was not a priority because the responders are "concerned with [human] life."

"He also told me that my partner was dead when they arrived, 18 fucking minutes after impact," he stated, referring to the time he said was given by the CHP officer who called him. "If he was dead and they are concerned with life, and my dog was alive, then why isn't my dog alive and with me right now?"

Summers' memorial service was held November 18 in Emeryville.

"I feel like things are getting harder," Donohie said earlier this month. "We just had Jamie's memorial service a week-and-a half-ago. It was big and beautiful and went beyond my expectations, but I was busy planning for it and now that it's behind me, life is lonely and quiet and I feel like this is when it gets hard."

Donohie, a massage therapist, said he and Summers had been together for eight years. A friend introduced them. He said his rent obligation doubled since Summers had paid half.

"I don't know how long I'll be able to stay here but I'll do my best," he said.

When asked what he'd like from CHP, Donohie said, "if nothing else, a little acknowledgement."

"Maybe that's asking too much from CHP, but an apology would be nice," he said. "I think they know they mishandled the situation. I don't know why it took them 18 minutes to get to the site of the accident. Eighteen minutes is an awful long time if you're trapped in a car and you're hurt and you're dying. Eighteen minutes is a long time for a dog to be terrified and trembling. I'm just amazed that out of all those first responders, nobody could keep her safe."

CHP response

Andrews of the CHP stated to the B.A.R. that the first unit arrived on scene seven minutes after 8:01 p.m., the time officers were dispatched.

"Upon arrival officers observed a dog inside of the Kia," Andrews stated. "Animal control services were requested but unavailable due to the time of day. As officers accessed the Kia and attempted to corral the startled dog, the dog quickly ran past the officers and away from the scene and against traffic. A CHP unit was dispatched to locate the dog but was unable to find it."

CHP Officer Andrew Barclay stated, "From the moment the call was received to the moment the first unit was assigned was a total of one minute and five seconds (1:05). From the moment the first unit was assigned to the moment they arrived on scene was five minutes and fifty-seven seconds (5:57). From the moment the phone was picked up to the moment the first unit arrived on scene, which includes all call taking, dispatching, and response time, was a total of seven minutes and forty-four seconds (7:44). With that said, I'm not sure where a response time of 18 minutes came from."

Donohie said that came from the CHP officer who called him.

Barclay stated that he does not know the total time from the collision until first responders arrived.

"I wouldn't be able to say the time from impact to arrival as we don't know about a crash until someone calls 911 to report it," he stated. "I was able to provide the times that our agency has, which covers from the moment we first received the call to the moment we arrived on scene.

He also stated that the coroner's office, in this case the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau, is the agency that notifies people of deaths.

"In almost every scenario where someone is killed in a crash, the coroner's office handles notifications," Barclay stated. "Before doing so, they must verify who is the legal next of kin, which seems to fit with Mr. Donohie's story. I'm not saying with absolute certainty that we didn't advise him, but I want to make sure we are commenting on part of this that we were involved in."

A spokesperson for the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau told the B.A.R. on December 21 that yes, Summers' next of kin was informed by the agency of his death. The spokesperson would not say who that next of kin is.

Andrews stated, "The CHP strives to provide the highest level of safety and service and to demonstrate professionalism to every member of our community. If Mr. Donohie would like to speak with us directly regarding the concerns raised in his statement, please let him know we would be happy to arrange a time to meet with him."

Donohie responded to the B.A.R. when provided these statements.

"It's bizarre that they are questioning that the CHP notified me of Jamie's death," he stated, reiterating that the agency had contacted him. "How else would I know?

"When Jamie didn't come home that evening, I waited over an hour before calling the Emeryville police," Donohie stated. "I asked if there was anything reported with the name Jamie Summers. I was told that there was, that CHP had information regarding Mr. Summers. I was given a log number and was told to call CHP. When I called, I was told that an officer would call me back. When he called back he said that there was an accident, that 'they tried to resuscitate the driver, but couldn't.'"

Donohie reiterated his thoughts, saying that "It is unconscionable that out of that many professionals, no one could keep our pup alive."

"I understand that accidents happen," he stated. "I'm crushed that my partner is dead, but there is no reason for my pup to also be gone. The two of them were all I had, they were my family."

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