As the Jackson County medical examiner ruled that drug intoxication contributed to Toni Anderson’s accidental death, dashcam footage released Tuesday shows her giggling when a police officer who pulled her over told her she was driving the wrong way on a two-way street.
The North Kansas City police officer let the missing University of Missouri-Kansas City student go without a road sobriety test when he stopped her the last night she was seen Jan. 15. Never asking her to get out of her car, the officer told her to go park and collect herself.
Two months later Anderson’s body was found in the Missouri River. She died from hypothermia and drowning, the medical examiner ruled, according to an autopsy report released Tuesday. Her death was ruled accidental.
Authorities said other factors contributing to Anderson’s death were ethanol, cocaine and amphetamine intoxication. Those drugs can cause confusion, leading to impaired driving.
“Cops don’t tell people they think are intoxicated to go collect themselves,” said Mary Gillespie, a friend of Anderson’s who has questioned how police handled the investigation. “No, they are going to perform a breathalyzer test or other DUI testing and then determine if they need to take you in or not.”
“He should be punished for the fullest extent for letting her go,” Gillespie said.
Anderson, a 20-year-old Wichita native, was reported missing Jan. 15. She remained missing for nearly two months, until March 10, when police found her body inside her Ford Focus, 20 feet underwater in the river near a boat ramp at Platte Landing Park in Parkville.
The morning Anderson disappeared, she left her job as a server at the Chrome strip club, on U.S. 40 on the east side of Kansas City, about 4 a.m. She was on her way to meet friends at a location near downtown.
Later that morning, Anderson was pulled over by a North Kansas City police officer on Missouri 9 for an improper lane change. Several times in the dashcam recording, the officer told Anderson that she was driving on the wrong side of a two-way street and at one point asks her if she had been drinking.
North Kansas City Police Department said they reviewed the video and determined that the officer’s actions were reasonable, said Maj. Kevin Freeman.
Edited excerpts from the video of the traffic stop:
Officer: You are heading the wrong way.
Anderson: Yeah, I know (inaudible)
Officer: No, no. This is a two-way street. You’re on the full left hand side of the street, heading into on-coming traffic.
Officer: Huh? Not funny.
Anderson: I’m sorry.
Officer: That is why I’m asking you if you have been drinking. Are you taking any medications or anything?
Anderson: No, I am just really sick. I don’t feel good.
The officer then walked to his patrol car to check Anderson’s driver’s license and plate.
When he returns, he tells her: Toni, do me a favor pull into that parking lot; sit there a while, gather yourself. So when it clears, I’m going to make sure the light turns. Go over there, park and sit.
Anderson: Ok, thank you.
During the weeks Anderson was missing, speculation about her death drove headlines across the country.
A cryptic text message Anderson sent before she died, saying she was pulled over by police again, led many to wonder whether she had come across a police impersonator or rogue cop. But police said at the time that they found no evidence of foul play and that the investigation indicated Anderson accidentally drove down the boat ramp and drowned.
The autopsy report released Tuesday found:
▪ Anderson’s cellphone last sent a signal in English Landing Park, adjacent to Platte Landing Park.
▪ The temperature was 30 degrees, with a windchill of 23-24 degrees. A light freezing drizzle fell in the area.
▪ The examination found two minor bruises on Anderson’s left knee — the only injuries she appeared to have sustained before death.
▪ All windows in Anderson’s car were intact, with the driver’s side window down. The car was in drive with the keys in the ignition.
▪ Investigators found Anderson lying in the car with no seat belt on. She had sand in her hair and in her clothing, which was the same clothing she had last been seen in on Jan. 15.
▪ The report states that cuts to Anderson’s abdomen contained glass and appeared to have occurred after death.
▪ Anderson did not have a prescription for amphetamines, according to the report.
Anderson was alone in her car the last time she was seen. Investigators have video surveillance of Anderson buying gas.
She was still at the gas station when she texted a friend to say that she had been pulled over by police again.
Some wondered whether by writing “again” Anderson meant she had been pulled over a second time that night.
The Star found that the timing of that text message seems to contradict that theory.
Anderson’s mother, Liz Anderson, has said she believes Anderson’s death was an accident. The mother said police gave her access to the case evidence and at one time had 12 detectives working on the investigation.
Dennis Watters, part of the husband-and-wife water search team who found Anderson’s car, said Anderson’s death didn’t appear suspicious to him. In more than a decade of searching rivers and lakes for missing vehicles, the Watters team has recovered 86 bodies, about a dozen in circumstances similar to Anderson’s.
About 400 people drown in vehicles every year in the U.S.
The investigation is now closed, police said.