TOWNSEND -- A recently retired police officer and his wife were killed Thursday night in a multi-car crash on a dark New Hampshire highway.

Sgt. John Johnson, 58, was less than six months into his retirement, following 39-year career on the force, when the car he was driving was struck head-on by a wrong-way driver on Route 101 in Epping, according to a press release from New Hampshire State Police.

Just before midnight, Johnson's 2008 Chevrolet Impala was traveling westbound when it was struck by an eastbound pickup truck being operated by Ryan Kittredge, 31, of Derry, according to the report.

Johnson and his wife, Heidi, 57, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Heidi and John Johnson at Hoover Dam in an undated Facebook photo.
Heidi and John Johnson at Hoover Dam in an undated Facebook photo.
Kittredge was initially taken to Exeter Hospital before being transported by medical helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital with serious injuries. He was expected to recover.

A third vehicle headed west, a 2015 Ford Fusion driven by Andrew Neeper of nearby Raymond, then slammed into the right lane wreckage, State Police reported.

He "was unable to see the vehicles blocking the roadway as they were completely dark," the statement reads.

Neeper was transported to Exeter Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

It is unclear why Kittredge was traveling in the wrong direction, but witnesses said he had just made a U-turn from westbound travel to eastbound within the same side of the divided roadway, according to the release.


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A Collision Analysis and Reconstruction team is trying to piece together the details of the incident as the investigation continues.

Drugs or alcohol appear to have played a role in the crash, New Hampshire State Police Lt. John Hennessey told WMUR-TV.

"It is evident and apparent that impairment was a contributing factor in this crash," Hennessey said.

Police had yet to determine whether charges would be filed.

In Townsend, the community was in a state of shock, nowhere more so than the Police Department.

Retired police Sgt. John Johnson salutes in an undated file photo.
Retired police Sgt. John Johnson salutes in an undated file photo. (Courtesy Townsend Police Dept.)

"The whole town is in mourning, said Police Chief Richard Bailey. "He was a good officer. He loved his town and served it with honor. He will be missed."

Bailey said he awoke to the tragic news and immediately gathered together all of the members of the department, which includes 15 full-timers.

"We were grieving together," he said of Johnson, who was still an active reservist for the small force.

Johnson is a Townsend native who lived across the state line in New Ipswich.

His local footprint, however, was wide and deep.

"We all knew him. He was very active in the annual police barbecue," said Karin Canfield Moore, director of the Senior Center, where Johnson's mother is a member.

"It was a shock and a tragedy to the entire community," said Moore.

The police station was swarmed by media on Friday, while town workers hung black bunting along the facade of the building and the flag hung at half staff. "Everyone knew him and he knew everyone," said Brian Mayer, a town employee who fought the cold breeze and the tears to hang the bunting. "It's a very sad day."

The Board of Selectmen also issued a statement expressing condolences for the department, the community and the extended family of John and Heidi Johnson.

Bailey said he cannot recall any tragic losses for the department over many years. He also said that the couple will likely be interred in Townsend and that full police officer honors are planned.

"I will always remember him how he was. He was always happy and loved his job. When he retired it was tough to lose all that experience and knowledge. But he earned it."