After watching two videos showing Toni Anderson the last time she was seen alive, her mother says the 20-year-old was obviously “hammered” and shouldn’t have been allowed to drive.
The mother, Liz Anderson, has seen newly released surveillance video that for the first time shows Toni Anderson out of her car at a North Kansas City QuikTrip, where she stopped before drowning in the Missouri River in January.
Liz Anderson also has seen a previously released dash cam video showing a traffic stop minutes earlier, when a police officer questioned Toni Anderson about drinking and driving on the wrong side of the road before letting her go, hours before Anderson accidentally drove into the river.
It was the last known sighting of Anderson before a seven-week mystery that ended March 10 with her body being found in her car in the river near a boat ramp in Parkville.
The surveillance video from the QuikTrip shows Anderson driving in a confused manner, on the wrong side of the road, and sitting at an intersection for nearly 15 minutes before a North Kansas City police officer pulled up behind her.
On Tuesday, Liz Anderson said that, combined with dash cam video of that traffic stop, in which Toni Anderson can be heard giggling, and a toxicology report that shows Anderson was under the influence of alcohol, cocaine and amphetamines, it was enough to make her wish the police officer had arrested Anderson instead of telling her to pull into the nearby gas station and collect herself.
“I can’t say too much, but shame on him,” Liz Anderson said. “He could have saved my daughter’s life. She was hammered. And going the wrong way. Any idiot could say, ‘You’re messed up.’ ”
The traffic stop came under increased scrutiny in light of Toni Anderson’s death. Several law enforcement experts, after viewing the traffic stop video, criticized the officer’s decision to let Anderson go without asking her to step out of the car for a sobriety test.
On Tuesday, North Kansas City Police Maj. Kevin Freeman responded to those criticisms, saying the officer made a reasonable decision based on what he knew at the time.
“We do still stand by our officer,” Freeman said. “Many factors go into a patrol officer’s decisions: When to stop someone, where to pull them over, what they are going to do.
“It’s atmosphere conditions, it’s sights and smells and sounds. We don’t ‘would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.’ We go on what information was available to the officer at the time.”
In the weeks Anderson remained missing, people across the country were captivated by theories about what happened to her. After police closed the case as an accident, some remained unconvinced and have pursued police and city officials for more answers.
Anderson, a Wichita native and student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, was reported missing Jan. 15. She had 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.
The traffic stop about a half-hour later on Missouri 9, and her visit to the nearby QuikTrip, are still the last known sightings of Anderson. Police believe Anderson accidentally drove into the river and drowned hours later.
The wrong way
The surveillance video from the QuikTrip not only shows Anderson visiting the store, but also shows the traffic stop outside and what Anderson was doing for nearly 15 minutes before a police officer noticed she was sitting in the wrong lane.
Anderson’s car first appears at 4:13 a.m., when she stops at the intersection of 26th and Burlington streets. She remains there for 12 minutes while the traffic lights change at least three times — activated by other vehicles.
The video shows how other drivers, encountering Anderson on the wrong side of the two-way street, hesitate before driving around her, or turn in another direction.
At 4:25 a.m., a North Kansas City police officer sees Anderson sitting in the wrong lane, turns on his emergency lights and pulls up behind her.
Seen separately in the dash cam video, the traffic stop lasted about five minutes, during which the officer asked Anderson if she was drinking and if she realized she was driving the wrong way. He never asked her to get out of her car, but suggested she drive to the gas station. “Gather yourself,” he told her.
A toxicology report released with Anderson’s autopsy in May showed she was under the influence of alcohol, cocaine and amphetamines when she died.
The same month, North Kansas City police released the dash cam video showing the traffic stop.
Several law enforcement experts who viewed the video of the traffic stop questioned the officer’s decision to let Anderson go.
Jim White, a public safety lecturer at Indiana University and former member of the Indiana State Police, said given the fact that Anderson was driving the wrong way, at that time of night, and appeared confused, it was “difficult to understand why the officer did not administer a field sobriety test.
“Advising the driver to park and gather herself further implies the officer believed there was impairment or mental confusion,” White said.
Jef Henninger, a New Jersey defense attorney who has handled many traffic cases, said he looked to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guidelines to see if the police officer had probable cause to investigate Anderson for driving under the influence.
According to the NHTSA guidelines, a driver going the wrong way will be intoxicated more than 50 percent of the time.
“I think there were enough clues,” Henninger said. “I’m not sure what the justification was for not doing a field sobriety test. It would only have taken a handful of minutes. If she passed all the sobriety tests, and then something happens, then, hey — you did your job.”
After the traffic stop, the video shows Anderson pull into the gas station and approach one pump on the wrong side of her car before swinging around to pull up to another one.
As she uses the gas pump and goes inside the store to pay, Anderson otherwise appears purposeful and in control.
After leaving the store, Anderson sits in her car for several minutes before driving away, apparently headed north, in the general direction of Parkville, where she would be found dead weeks later.
In total, 36 minutes passed between Anderson’s arrival at the intersection and when she finally left the gas station at 4:49 a.m.
Two North Kansas City police cars remained near the gas station after the traffic stop but drove away before Anderson left.
Liz Anderson said she thinks they made a mistake.
She also noted that her daughter was only 20 — not of legal age to drink — and if she was served drinks somewhere, she should not have been.
The police officer could have saved Toni Anderson’s life, her mother said.
“I feel he was probably giving her a break,” Liz Anderson said. “But that isn’t what you need to do — you need to serve and protect.”