Montgomery County

Montgomery County deputy’s memorial set for Miami Avenue

Montgomery County Sheriff Michael Amato has organized a ceremony, slated for May 12, dedicating Miam

Twenty-one years ago, Montgomery County Deputy Sheriff Gary A. Johnson was run off the road by a driver who crossed the center line. Johnson died after his vehicle hit a tree.

“I was in bed when I got the call,” said Sheriff Michael Amato. “I was an investigator at the time, so they needed me at the scene. It was a hard time for me, because when you get that call, you pray it’s not someone you know, and Gary was a friend.”

Amato wanted to do something in memory of Johnson and for his surviving wife and two sons at the time of the accident, but he didn’t have the clout. Now, after more than 30 years in law enforcement, he has organized a ceremony, slated for May 12, dedicating Miami Avenue to the memory of his friend.

After more than two decades, Amato is one of only a few in his department who remember Johnson.

“Gary had a heck of presence when he walked into a room,” he said. “He was a big guy, not fat, just really big and tall, and he wasn’t quiet. He was robust. He did his job well, always followed through. People liked him.”

Amato was part of the team that investigated the crash. They determined that a white van had crossed the center line while traveling south on Route 80 in Minden. Johnson, traveling north to respond to a routine domestic disturbance call, swerved off the road and hit a tree, dying of internal injuries.

The alleged driver, Steven Kennerknecht, was tracked down and a case was built against him, but a grand jury chose not to indict.

“I thought we had a good case,” Amato said. “He had several other accidents on his driving record, all caused by him crossing the center line. He had a problem, but he never signed his statement and the grand jury didn’t think we had enough.”

But a decade after the crash that killed Johnson, Kennerknecht was charged with setting a fire in Glen that injured several firefighters. He pleaded guilty in 2001 to that arson and to charges in another fire and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, where he remains. His earliest possible release is in November 2013, according to the state Department of Correctional Services.

Johnson’s widow and two sons will be attending the dedication ceremony — the family was going to be together for Mother’s Day weekend.

“It will be a short event, not more than 15 or 20 minutes,” Amato said. “I talked to Gary’s wife and she made me promise not to drag it out.”

The dedication will take place at 10 a.m. May 12 on Miami Avenue in the town of Amsterdam, near its intersection with Midline Road.

Signs reading “Gary A. Johnson Memorial Avenue” will be planted on both ends of Miami — one near Amsterdam High School, where he worked for many years, and one by the Walmart parking lot. He grew up in the town of Amsterdam as well.

The public is invited to attend.

Categories: Schenectady County

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