Commentary: Davey G. Johnson – 1975-2019

I never met Davey G. Johnson. But, I felt the pain my colleagues went through when he was reported missing somewhere in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in California On June 5.

Johnson was both an automotive and motorcycle journalist. His byline appeared in Car and Driver, among many titles. His colleagues and friends informed us of the report of his disappearance and the subsequent search for his body.

The sequence of events was interesting, at best. First, his press motorcycle, a Honda CB1000R at a rest stop off California Highway 49 in Mokelumne Hill. The key to the motorcycle was left in the ignition, but Johnson took his backpack with his laptop and mobile phone with him. Then, the search team found those items, along with his clothes, and, later, his wallet by the bank of the Mokelumne River and a tributary stream off of the river.

Prior to his disappearance, Johnson picked up the Honda in Los Angeles and rode out to Las Vegas. He, then, pointed the motorcycle towards one of the finest roads in California, Highway 49. This was the route that connects all of the famed towns of the Gold Rush. It also includes one of the toughest segments of roads in the state, the Sonora Pass. His goal was to head home to Sacramento.

Most times of the year, the Sonora Pass presents a challenge to anyone trying to scale its steep and weather-prone crossing through the Sierras. Johnson reported that the pass really got the best of him. It was at that point where he set the motorcycle down in Mokelumne Hill.

Why did he go missing?

He just proposed to his girlfriend Jaclyn Trop, a fellow journalist. Yet, he did lose his parents two years prior and had been going through the process of grief in the aftermath of his loss. Still, from what I gathered that his relationship with Jaclyn was blossoming towards his marriage proposal. And, she said "yes."

He was reported missing on June 5. Efforts by the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department and the local search and rescue team and other volunteers coming to the area along the riverbank were intensive. On June 17, they terminated the search to concentrate on weekly boat searches on the river.

On June 20, the search team found the body in the river. Davey G Johnson was found dead at the age of 43.

The Calaveras County Sheriff's Department concluded that based on their evidence, Johnson may have simply gone into the river on his will. They ruled out foul play as a factor in his death.

Still, my colleagues in the automotive media business followed the story from Mokelumne Hill. We did not get the conclusion we hoped for. 

Again, I never met Johnson. I've only heard of him…probably read a couple of his stories. Still, I joined with my colleagues in sending thoughts, prayers, and energy in hopes that we would not have to bury one of our own. 

This brings up something that was affirmed by John Pearley Huffman in a piece published by Car and Driver. We are part if an "extended family" of media professionals. Sometimes dysfunctional, sometimes loving, but all business in the end.

This was evidenced as a GoFundMe page was set up by Mike Levine, Manager of Product Communications at Ford. Our community responded to contribute more than $16,000 for the search and rescue efforts in Mokelumne Hill. This is an effort aided by this "extended family" of media professionals.

Though we are professionals, we are also diverse in our interests which we all share. I think about what I read about Johnson and his love of guitars, rock music, and of course two- and four-wheeled machinery. Johnson would hang out with several of his colleagues and geek out on their collective knowledge of rock. These are the things that make us who we are.

I think about this in this context. I always question what I bring to the table with my colleagues that are similar and different from their interests. The problem is that I have yet to truly discuss anything outside of work to them. That is something that we need to start doing more often in the wake of Johnson's disappearance. We need to show that we are not just married to our work, but we are well-rounded human beings.

We do show our lives through social media and found ourselves curious about whether we can have a conversation outside of the confines of Instagram and Facebook. Some of us have and continue to do. It is that "some" that create a community of us to thrive and foster deeper relationships outside of work.

We also show our work. The enjoyment of this work we love. The same enjoyment that Johnson had as an adventurous and curious person. For him, his adventures on two- and four-wheels are the stuff of dreams. We all wished we had Johnson's depth of knowledge of music or his want of doing epic stories. Some of us have that. Some of us just stay in our lane and keep our eyes within the confines of the business.

The takeaway is to simply take the life experiences of our colleague and celebrate it. And, pass it on.

That is the legacy Davey G. Johnson leaves behind for us.

Photo Courtesy of Joe Sage/Arizona Driver Magazine

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