Dash cam footage released Tuesday shows Toni Anderson giggling and apparently intoxicated during a Jan. 15 traffic stop before a police officer let her go and she ended up driving into the Missouri River and drowning about 7 miles away.
Police released the video the same day the Jackson County medical examiner ruled that drug intoxication contributed to Anderson’s accidental death.
The traffic stop came about 4:30 a.m., when a North Kansas City police officer pulled Anderson over and told her she was driving the wrong way on a two-way street.
The officer let the University of Missouri-Kansas City student go without a road sobriety test, never asking her to get out of her car. The officer told Anderson to go park and gather herself.
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Soon after that encounter, Anderson disappeared, remaining missing for nearly two months while the mystery of what happened to her captivated the city and people across the country. Police believe she probably drowned within hours of leaving the traffic stop.
On March 10, Anderson’s body was found inside her car in the Missouri River, near a boat ramp at Platte Landing Park in Parkville.
Anderson, a 20-year-old Wichita native, 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.”
The January 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.
About 4:30 a.m., Anderson was pulled over by a North Kansas City police officer on Missouri 9 for an improper lane change. Dashcam video of the stop was released Tuesday.
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 whether she had been drinking.
The North Kansas City Police Department said it 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 oncoming 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.
Tony Corroto, a retired 17-year veteran of Atlanta Police Department officer who served on its DUI task force and reviewed the footage of the Anderson traffic stop, said she showed signs of intoxication.
“It’s not being aware of her surroundings, and she sounded lethargic to me,” Corroto said in an interview with The Star. “Those are key indicators to pull somebody out of the car and investigate further.”
He added: “Why didn’t he at least write a ticket for doing what she did wrong? That’s pretty serious, driving on the wrong side of the road.”
During the weeks Anderson was missing, speculation about her death drove headlines across the country.
A cryptic text message Anderson sent shortly after the North Kansas City police officer pulled her over, 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, during removal from the river when glass on the vehicle was broken.
▪ 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.
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. On Tuesday, Liz Anderson declined to comment.
Dennis Watters, part of the husband-and-wife water search team who found Toni 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.
The Wichita Eagle contributed to this report.