The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office announced Monday it had reopened its investigation of the death of Andrea Johnson, the 15-year-old girl some believe died because getting her the medical attention she needed would have exposed her involvement in a prominent polygamist clan.
Johnson died in 1992 from complications due to her pregnancy. Her condition, pre-eclampsia, commonly called toxemia, is an easily treatable condition many women experience during pregnancy.By the time Johnson was finally taken to the hospital, however, one of her sisters said her condition had become advanced. Her body had swelled, and pressure building inside her skull had taken her sight.
Johnson's death certificate indicates she died, days later, from a brain hemorrhage.
Recently, claims resurfacing from ex-polygamists and estranged family members suggest Johnson died needlessly. That her secret "marriage" to Jason Kingston, the youngest brother of Paul Kingston, the head of the polygamist Latter Day Church of Christ, eventually ended her life.
Connie Rugg, Andrea Johnson's sister, said she too had pre-eclampsia and was hospitalized. Rugg said although she did not see Johnson's condition personally, she was kept abreast of the situation by her mother and friends.
The condition could have been treated easily, Rugg said, if Johnson's housemates - new husband Jason, then only 16, and his mother, LaDonna Kingston -hadn't been afraid of revealing their polygamist lifestyle.
"This doesn't happen that quick," Rugg told the Deseret News. "I had that same condition and I was sick for a good two months before I went to the hospital. Andrea had to be delirious for at least a week for her to be in that condition. She was way beyond the point that I was. She had two blood clots the size of lemons. They actually had to cut into her skull to release the pressure.
"It was completely unnecessary. Nobody dies from an illness like that. It's like dying from a broken leg because it's not set. It's easily treated."
But it wasn't. Rugg said LaDonna and Jason Kingston were concerned that if they took Johnson in to get help, there would be questions.
"They worried (medical personnel) would ask them who the father was, why a 15-year-old girl was pregnant and where her mother was. They were waiting for a responsible party, and they did not want to be that party."
Rugg said her mother knew Johnson had toxemia and that she was concerned Johnson wasn't being treated. Finally, her mother picked Johnson up and took her to the hospital. But it was too late.
Though Rugg said Jason Kingston wasn't a practicing polygamist at the time, she says he now has five wives. And the fear that the Kingston family would be exposed, that Jason would become embroiled in legal trouble like his brother, John Daniel Kingston, overrode concerns for Andrea Johnson's life.
John Daniel Kingston is currently awaiting trial in Box Elder County, charged with beating his 16-year-old daughter after she fled an arranged "marriage" to her much-older uncle.
Jason Kingston was unavailable for comment regarding his alleged relationship with Andrea Johnson. Though a number of people have come forward to attest to their relationship, no evidence has yet been uncovered firmly linking Jason Kingston to Andrea Johnson.
Jason Kingston has worked for the past 18 months, currently in good standing, as a staff auditor in the State Auditor's office.
"He's a good employee, and he's done a good job," said Utah State Auditor Auston Johnson.
"Right now, (the allegations against Jason Kingston) are just accusations," Auston Johnson said. "Now if he's convicted, then yes, we'd have to take a closer look. You know, about the employment of a convicted felon."
Andrea Johnson's death raised few suspicions early on, because she died at a hospital. No autopsy was done, and there weren't any red flags, said Salt Lake County sheriff's spokeswoman Peggy Faulk-ner.
Shortly thereafter, however, investigators were alerted that Andrea Johnson's death could have been prevented.
The original inquiry dried up when investigators were told Andrea Johnson's medical records had been lost, Faulkner said.
But it has recently become known that Andrea Johnson's records have turned up again at University Hospital. Having those records may shed some light, finally, on what really happened to Andrea Johnson, Faulkner said.
And who may - or may not - be responsible.
"Having those records, we can investigate fully to see if she died due to neglect. That's homicide," Faulkner said. "Or at the very least it's manslaughter."
Investigators do not expect any trouble in retrieving the records as a part of their inquiry but said they are prepared to fight for them if they have to.
Palmer DePaulis, chief of staff for Utah Attorney General Jan Graham, said Monday a special investigator had been assigned to look closer into abuse in polygamous communities. He also said plans are in the works to formulate a "training unit" for law enforcement officials, though he said "it make take some months" before such a unit is ready to implement.
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