SALT LAKE CITY — Evidence uncovered by the Cold podcast suggests the lone suspect in the disappearance of Susan Powell, her husband, Josh, might have intentionally caused car accidents at least three different times in a bid to scam insurance companies.
Finding Jeff Lewis
Investigative reporter Dave Cawley, the host of COLD, sought to identify the driver in one such accident shortly after wrapping work on the first season of the podcast. Josh Powell used that accident, on Sept. 2, 2009, to explain a shoulder injury that was first diagnosed 10 days after Susan was reported missing on Dec. 7, 2009. The injury was first reported by Cold and was unknown to the police.
In a Facebook post dated July 23, 2019, Cawley asked followers of COLD’s Facebook page for help identifying the driver of a red GMC Sierra pickup truck, visible in a photo retrieved by police from Josh Powell’s cellphone after his wife vanished. About a week later, Cawley updated that post to say he had contacted the driver.
That driver, it turns out, was Jeff Lewis. At the time of Susan Powell’s disappearance, he lived about a mile and a half from the Powell’s home on Sarah Circle in West Valley City. In an interview for the podcast, he recalled the accident, which happened as both drivers were turning onto Bangerter Highway from a side street near California Avenue and Highway 201.
“I was sitting at a red light with one vehicle in front of me, and it happened to be a little minivan,” Lewis recalled. “And the minivan started to pull forward and turn right, and so I naturally looked left as I was pulling forward, and I ran into the back of the minivan.”
The driver of that Chrysler Town and Country minivan was Josh Powell.
“Something was really off”
Lewis said something seemed odd right away.
“Something was really off. I didn’t feel comfortable with the guy,” Lewis said. He recalled calling 911 to report the accident.
As accidents go, it wasn’t a serious one. No airbags deployed; Lewis wasn’t hurt. Lewis said Powell appeared to be OK, too — until the state trooper arrived. Prior to that, Lewis said Powell was out of his minivan and able to walk around — even offering to shake Lewis’s hand and introducing himself.
“As soon as Josh looked over and saw that there was a cop pulled up, all of a sudden his back started hurting, and he kind of started holding his lower back and limping back to his vehicle. And he actually got back into his van on the passenger side,” Lewis said. “The cop got out of his vehicle, walked up to me and asked me, ‘What was that?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. He was perfectly fine while we were waiting for you.'”
An ambulance took Powell away to be checked out. As reported by Cold, that very day, Powell received a prescription for the muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine — 40 pills, of which 32 were still in his prescription bottle when police searched his home after Susan disappeared.
Utah court records showed Lewis wound up with a citation for following too close.
He didn’t think much else of it. Until December 2009, when he saw a familiar face on his television.
Pain, suffering and a pattern of behavior
Lewis said he learned around that same time that Powell had filed claims against his auto insurance company. Powell wanted compensation for damage to his van as well as medical expenses. The insurance company wound up paying for Powell’s ambulance ride and just shy of $3,000 for the damage to the van, all confirmed by paperwork obtained by Cold.
Lewis said Powell also sought payment for “pain and suffering.”
“They did not pay out the money that he was asking for that,” Lewis confirmed. “And at the time my insurance agent actually told me that there was other cases that he had been involved, that was very similar to the same accident.”
Lewis was surprised. The accident, after all, happened at slow speed — likely under 5 miles per hour. Lewis had been skeptical on the day of the crash that Powell actually needed the ambulance.
Based on that mention of other similar cases, Cawley started digging to see what he could find.
Two other crashes, two other insurance companies
Nichole Lyons was driving her Jeep Wrangler on June 8, 2000, headed home in rush-hour traffic along Meridian, a busy thoroughfare in Puyallup, Wash.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic waited at the light at 39th Ave. Powell’s van, a Plymouth Voyager, crept forward. So did Lyons’ Jeep. Then, the minivan stopped abruptly.
“I rear-ended him just ever so slightly,” Lyons recalled. “Really, we were going — you know, the miles per hour was like, you know, two or three.”
Then, on May 12, 2003, Bob Powers found himself following Josh and Susan Powell’s minivan — the same Plymouth Voyager — on a frontage road in Union Gap, Wash., going far below the speed limit.
“No need to be stopping. There’s clear roadway ahead, no stoplights, no stop signs, no right- or left-turn opportunities. There was no reason for him to be stopped dead — dead center in the middle of the road,” Powers said.
And yet, that’s what happened. As Powers found himself distracted for just a moment, the extremely slow-moving minivan came to an abrupt stop. He hit it.
In both cases, COLD confirmed Josh Powell sought help from a chiropractor and filed claims for the damage to his vehicle. Powell also sought compensation for pain and suffering. And it turns out, in both cases, Powell received a settlement, taking home $728 after medical expenses, repairs and legal fees in the Puyallup collision, and $6,160 in the Union Gap crash.
What it all means
State Farm insurance didn’t share the details of its 2003 settlement with Powers but did enter the information into a fraud prevention database. That’s likely how Lewis’s insurance agent became aware of the prior claims while investigating Powell’s 2009 claim. Insurance company questions about the extent of Powell’s treatment led to their ordering an independent medical examination, or IME, for Powell.
The IME records were how Cawley first discovered Powell’s rotator cuff strain or tear diagnosis on Dec. 17, 2009.
Lewis believes the pattern of brake-checking and filing claims potentially demonstrates a motive for Susan Powell’s disappearance and possible murder. He also believes there’s no way Powell hurt his shoulder in their fender-bender.
“He claims shoulder injury? When the cop pulled up, he was holding his lower back,” Lewis said. “When I saw him on the news and his wife was missing, my gut feeling was that he was trying to get insurance money. Right away, when I see this, I’m going, ‘Man, this guy – this guy got rid of his wife for money.'”
More details about all three crashes are available now in a bonus episode of the COLD podcast. Subscribe free anywhere you listen to podcasts.
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