Phoenix man sentenced after drunken driving led to girlfriend's death

·4 min read
Trial coverage
Trial coverage

A Phoenix man who drove intoxicated with four times over the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream and caused the death of his girlfriend in October 2021 has been sentenced.

Maricopa County Superior Judge Chuck Whitehead sentenced George E. Johnson, 39, to 10 years in prison for the manslaughter death of Tamirah Washington, 38. Johnson was a forklift driver at the time and is originally from Illinois.

In 2021, Johnson was driving his car on Loop 202 with Washington in the passenger seat. He was driving too fast when he got onto the off-ramp for Scottsdale Road in Tempe. The car's brakes locked, and it continued traveling until it hit a pole. The front passenger side, where Washington was sitting, suffered the most damage.

Washington died as a result of her injuries within an hour of the crash. Johnson walked away with minor injuries.

At Johnson's sentencing on Monday, Washington's son read a letter to the judge, saying how much he missed her. Her daughters did not speak, but the pain could be felt in letters they had submitted to the judge beforehand.

"I am writing this to let everyone know what it feels like to lose your mother at such a young age," wrote Washington's 14-year-old daughter.

What happened to Tamirah Washington?

On Oct. 16, 2021, at about 5:09 a.m., Johnson was driving his car on Loop 202 with Washington in the passenger seat. However, Johnson was driving too fast on the off-ramp toward Scottsdale Road.

As he continued on the ramp, Johnson's brakes locked. As a result, his red Nissan Altima jumped a curb and struck a steel traffic signal pole.

Washington was sitting on the side most damaged. She sustained multiple leg and pelvic fractures and died soon after.

Johnson was trying to pull Washington out of the vehicle when officers arrived. Officers noted in their arresting documents that Johnson had "red, watery eyes," slurred speech, and smelled of alcohol.

While police were trying to provide aid to Washington, Johnson became infuriated to the point that they arrested him. Police later said in court documents that he had become increasingly aggressive while emergency medical services tried to pull Washington out of the car.

At 5:59 a.m., she was pronounced dead at the Scottsdale Osborn Hospital. Johnson was also transported to the hospital for injuries that were not life-threatening. His bloodwork revealed that his blood alcohol concentration level was .331, according to court documents.

Johnson told police in an interview that he was not the driver but instead was a passenger who was sitting in the back seat of the car. He admitted that he and Washington had been drinking but that they had a sober driver who was visiting from Illinois. Johnson told police that the man fled after the crash.

However, several witnesses at the scene described Johnson as the driver and that they did not see anyone else leave the vehicle, according to court documents.

Police ran a records check on Johnson, which revealed that his driver's license was revoked in Illinois and suspended in Arizona.

Johnson was arrested at the Scottsdale hospital the next day by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. He was charged with manslaughter and two counts of aggravated DUI.

After initially pleading not guilty to the charges, Johnson accepted a plea agreement in February. The agreement gave him prison time for the manslaughter charge and dismissed the other two counts.

How Washington's death affected her loved ones

Washington had three children of her own, and many others who loved her.

Her three children, the father of her children, two of her friends, and her brother submitted letters to the judge prior to sentencing. They wrote about how funny, loving and caring Washington was. But they also wrote about how things could have been if different decisions were made on Oct. 16, 2021.

"If my mother never met him [Johnson] or if he had never made the mistake he did, maybe it would have turned out differently," wrote Washington's son, who spoke at the sentencing. "Maybe I would be able to actually talk to my mother instead of praying that she hears me every night."

This reporting follows crimes The Republic began to cover in 2021 and is part of our commitment to tell the story from start to finish.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix man sentenced after drunken driving led to girlfriend's death