Juneau police chief apologizes for botched death notification

Juneau Police Chief Bryce Johnson says the department will review an incident last Wednesday in which the wrong man’s family was told their son had died in a motor vehicle accident.

Johnson says there may have been a communication breakdown between JPD and Alaska State Troopers. He says Juneau officers meant to ask troopers to help verify whether they had the right family – not tell the parents their son was dead.

Johnson says he doesn’t want to give the impression that any other agency was at fault.

“It was the Juneau Police Department’s case,” he says. “It is really our responsibility to make sure that whatever agency we’re talking to understands what it is that we’re asking them to do. And that responsibility lies with us.”

Justin Donald Priest, 33, died in the single vehicle crash on Mendenhall Boulevard on Wednesday evening.

Later, a state trooper told the Priest family in Palmer that their 29-year-old son – who lives in Anchorage and is also named Justin – was the man killed in the accident.

In a widely circulated Facebook post on Thursday, the Palmer Justin Priest’s brother, Cody, recounts what happened after the trooper’s visit. The parents contacted Cody, and all three drove to Justin’s girlfriend’s house in Anchorage to break the bad news.

There, a confused Justin Priest opened the door to his shocked family.

“Couldn’t have been a crazier morning and so glad that Justin is okay,” Cody Priest wrote on Facebook.

Johnson promises JPD will review its protocols and procedures for similar situations.

Updated: Portion of Chief Bryce Johnson interview that aired Oct. 13, 2014 on KTOO’s Morning Edition.

The chief also says he called the Priest family in Palmer to apologize for causing them so much unnecessary grief.

An unidentified 30-year-old female passenger suffered minor injuries in the crash. EMTs also took a 50-year-old male passenger to Bartlett Regional Hospital with serious injuries.


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