Duayne Johnson speaks about his son, Jeremiah, on Feb. 16 at his Des Moines, Iowa, home. Jeremiah, an Iraq and Afghanistan war Army veteran, died in a crash the day before after a high-speed police pursuit. / Bryon Houlgrave, The Des Moines Register
DES MOINES, Iowa - Duayne Johnson turned on his cellphone over the weekend and was jarred by the voicemail message that had been left on it.
"I just wanted to let you know that I'm at a crossroads and I wanted to leave this message to let you know I'm probably not going to make it much longer," Jeremiah Johnson said in the voicemail to his father. "And this is me saying goodbye. ... And I really don't have anything else to say."
The voicemail was left at 10:47 p.m. Thursday. At about 3:15 a.m. Friday, Jeremiah Johnson was dead after leading law-enforcement officials on a chase through several central Iowa communities from Clive to Indianola.
Officers estimated Johnson's speed during the chase at 130 mph. The chase ended when the 33-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan war Army veteran slammed his vehicle into a parked patrol car.
Johnson died upon impact, officials said. Johnson's 5-year-old son, Johnnathen, was was found crying on the floor of the car behind the driver's seat after the crash and was injured.
Over the weekend, the boy's condition was listed as stable and Duayne Johnson said Johnnathen is expected to recover from his physical injuries. The chase and crash remain under investigation.
The voicemail Jeremiah Johnson left his father lasted only a few seconds.
"It was just devastating to hear," said Duayne Johnson, who shared the voicemail with The Des Moines Register. "I lost it. It was such a shame I didn't have my phone at that moment, didn't pick up."
Duayne Johnson, sitting in his living room Monday afternoon, cried as the voicemail played. He also laughed at memories of his son.
He described Jeremiah as a caring father who played with Johnnathen and had the child's face tattooed on his chest. He also said his son was a military veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who had asked his grandmother to send him candy to hand out to children when he was serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Duayne Johnson said he and his son were planning to ride their motorcycles together to a rally later in the year.
"It was so unnecessary," he said. "Tragedy isn't even the right word."
Duayne Johnson had just gotten the new phone and left it attached to a charger downstairs when he went to sleep Thursday night. He didn't discover the message until Sunday.
"It's one more thing I have to deal with," he said. "I missed the most important call of his life."
Johnnathen spent the first five years of his life as the focal point of a battle between two people who rarely got along, Polk County court documents show.
Court papers spread across a custody battle, two domestic abuse files and a dropped criminal case show almost constant conflict between Jeremiah Johnson and April Lozano, his ex-wife. Documents show the roughly 6½-year relationship included threats of violence from both adults; allegations that Jeremiah Johnson had mental problems both before and after his 2008 return from Iraq; and that April Lozano used drugs.
At times, both alleged in court papers that the other neglected their son.
A Polk County judge ruled in July that it was in the boy's best interest to live with his mother. Authorities said that ruling started a spiral for Jeremiah Johnson that ended early Friday with a high-speed police chase and his fatal collision.
Court papers say April Lozano and Jeremiah Johnson met in May 2006 and kept a long-distance relationship for roughly six months while Jeremiah Johnson, who was still active duty in the U.S. Army, stayed here and Lozano lived in Kansas City, Kansas. They were married in December of that year and moved in January 2007 to Fort Bragg, N.C.
In court papers, Jeremiah Johnson said the marriage was happy until he was notified the next month of an impending deployment to Iraq. An affidavit Lozano filed said Jeremiah Johnson became distant almost immediately after their marriage and began harassing her about her weight.
Johnnathen was born in October 2007, three months after his father left for Iraq.
Jeremiah Johnson's affidavit said he took a two-week leave in February 2008 to meet his son and promptly discovered that "none of our bills has been paid, there was no money in our account because of April's drug and alcohol habits." Lozano, who denies ever using drugs, moved to Kansas. In court papers she describes several subsequent months of harassment, including calls by Jeremiah Johnson to an apartment manager and public officials to make false reports of drug use and a poorly cared for cat.
Court papers say Jeremiah Johnson, who returned to the U.S. in October 2008, lost track of his wife and son for portions of the next year. He filed for divorce in July 2009; a North Carolina judge granted it in October 2009.
By then, Lozano was living with relatives in Michigan. In court papers, she said she reached out to the Johnson family in December 2009 and agreed to leave the boy with her husband's relatives "for a week or so" while she moved to Kansas to searched for a job.
Attempts to reach Lozano or her relatives have been unsuccessful.
Documents say Jeremiah Johnson, who was discharged from the Army that same month, was told she had abandoned the boy here. After an argument with his family, Jeremiah Johnson moved into a homeless shelter with his son for roughly a month.
Jeremiah Johnson was charged with child endangerment and harassment in August 2011 after one of Johnson's relatives appears to have confronted him about kicking his son in the chest "after becoming angry while putting an easel together." The misdemeanor charges were dropped that December.
Lozano filed a custody case in November 2011 and a domestic abuse charge two months later, alleging at that point that she hadn't seen her son in roughly two years. Lozano said in court papers that Jeremiah Johnson had "told me (he) thought many times about ways to kill me and where no one would be able to find me. After him taking child, I still am afraid to be around him due to all the abuse."
Jeremiah Johnson countered that his son's various medical and behavioral problems had improved during that period and that he tried to keep Lozano informed but couldn't always find her.
After family members submitted affidavits testifying to the boy's good health, a judge in February 2012 ordered the boy to stay with Johnson.
A different judge awarded Lozano custody on July 11.
"I think he was at the end of his rope," said Shirley Erickson of Des Moines, Jeremiah Johnson's grandmother.
Contributing: Jason Clayworth, The Des Moines Register
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