Bonus Ep: Car Crash Con

Josh and Susan Powell moved from their home state of Washington to Utah at the beginning of 2004. Neither had a job lined up, nor did they have a place to live planned.

Prior to the move, the Powells had worked as live-in managers at a pair of senior living communities. They’d run afoul of management at the first, Orchard Park in Yakima, Washington, due in part to excessive absenteeism related to medical treatment.

Susan Cox Powell case files Cold podcast
In this photo from early 2003, Susan Powell is seen working at the Orchard Park retirement center in Yakima, Wash. Photo: Josh Powell

That treatment, comprising several months of chiropractic and massage therapy care, had followed a minor car crash on May 12, 2003 in the community of Union Gap, Wash.

Records now recovered exclusively by Cold raise questions about the necessity of the treatment and suggest fraudulent behavior in this and other Josh Powell car crashes.

Josh Powell Car Crashes

The Union Gap crash occurred as Josh and Susan Powell were driving northbound on an I-82 frontage road called Rudkin Road.

Another motorist who was behind the Powells had glanced away from the road for a brief moment. Bob Powers told Cold he recalled looking back to see the minivan stopped in front of him, for no apparent reason.

Bob Powers recalls his May 12, 2003 car crash with Josh and Susan Powell from near where it occurred on Rudkin Road in Union Gap, Washington. This was the second of three suspicious Josh Powell car crashes. Video: Dave Cawley, KSL

“There’s clear roadway ahead, no stop lights, no stop signs, no right or left turn opportunities,” Powers said. “There was no reason for him to be stopped dead center in the middle of the road.”

Powers’ Lexus ES240 sedan collided with the Powell’s minivan at a low speed. The crash caused minor damage to a headlight on the car.

Repair records from Greenway Auto Body in Yakima showed the crash also left a small dent in the rear bumper of the minivan. The shop billed $1275 to Powers’ insurance to repair the damage.

Photos taken by appraiser Kelly Lawson and included with the body shop paperwork showed the damage was mostly cosmetic.

Josh Powell car crash damage minivan insurance scam
The rear bumper of Josh and Susan Powell’s minivan sustained minor damage from a low-speed car crash on May 12, 2003. A body shop charged $1275 to replace the bumper cover and trailer hitch, as well as to repair a dent in the bumper bar. Photo: Kelly Lawson

A Union Gap police officer responded to Powers’ phone call reporting the crash. A report authored by the officer described Josh as having claimed he had slowed to make a left-hand turn. The officer’s report also noted that “no injuries were reported.”

Josh Powell Car Crashes and Whiplash

Following the crash, Josh had Susan drive him to Memorial Hospital in Yakima. Josh sought an evaluation in the emergency department for symptoms of whiplash.

Josh Powell car crash insurance scam hospital Yakima
The entrance to the emergency department at Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital in Yakima, Wash. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL

Records retained by Josh Powell and recovered from his digital archive by the Cold podcast, with the assistance of digital forensic experts at the firm Eide Bailly, showed he received a prescription for Vicodin. Josh was also advised to avoid strenuous activity at work “for 3-4 days.”

Josh Powell car crashes insurance scam prescription
Josh Powell received this doctor’s note following a minor car crash on May 12, 2003. Powell used the “no serving coffee” instruction as justification for missing work. Image: Josh Powell

Susan Powell did not complain of any pain the evening of the crash. She did not request an evaluation at the hospital. However, the morning after the crash, she went to a clinic with general body aches. Susan received a prescription for Celebrex, which she did not end up taking, and similar advice regarding light duty.

On the second day after the crash, Josh convinced Susan they both needed to see a chiropractor. Josh had found one he liked in the Yellow Pages. Josh and Susan spent the next two months seeing the chiropractor two or three times per week. They also made multiple visits to a massage therapist.

Josh Powell car crashes insurance scam chiropractor
Billing paperwork related to one portion of Josh and Susan Powell’s care following a May 12, 2003 car crash showed auto insurance covered the majority of treatment expenses. Image: Josh Powell

All of those visits were billed to auto insurance.

Evidence Against Josh Powell’s Injury Claim​

In mid-July, 2003, Josh Powell decided that his recovery had plateaued. On July 16, 2003, he transferred his and Susan’s care to a different chiropractor.

However, only three days earlier, Josh and Susan had visited a trucking business in Kent, Wash. Josh at the time was considering obtaining a commercial driver license. In video recorded that day by Josh’s father, Steve Powell, Josh can be seen using his arms and upper body to steer a tractor-trailer.

Josh Powell uses his arms and upper body to drive a big-rig truck on July 13, 2003, the same period of time he was receiving treatment for a neck and back injury from a car crash two months prior. Video: Steve Powell

By coincidence, that day was also when Steve Powell confessed his infatuation with Susan to her in a conversation he accidentally captured on tape.

Josh Powell’s personal notes indicate the second chiropractor advised the Powells they should hire a personal injury attorney in an attempt to extract a settlement from Bob Powers’ insurance company. Josh resisted this idea, opting to instead negotiate with the insurance company directly.

“I actually had no idea that this guy had made any claim whatsoever with my insurance company until you guys had come up with that information.”

Bob Powers

By August, both insurance companies involved in the claim had become suspicious about the necessity of the ongoing chircopractic and massage therapy treatments. Josh’s insurance provider, Pemco, ordered the Powells to undergo independent medical evaluations.

Josh and Susan Powell’s IME​

Records show both Josh and Susan Powell took part in those evaluations on Aug. 19, 2003.

The evaluator noted that Josh complained of  “aching, stabbing, or burning pain” in his neck, as well as headaches. Josh also described having hit his head at the time of the crash and blacking out “for about two seconds following the accident.”

On an intake form, Josh checked boxes indicating he was experiencing severe or frequent headaches,  shaking or twitching in limbs, loss of motion in joints, spine abnormality and excessive worry or anxiety.

Susan did not check any boxes indicating current symptoms.

The IME paperwork also revealed both Josh and Susan had each missed eight days of work following the crash.

Josh Powell car crashes insurance scam injury paperwork IME
Paperwork from Josh Powell’s independent medical examination on Aug. 19, 2003 showed he missed eight days of work following a low-speed car crash on May 12, 2003. Image: Josh Powell

Josh also told the evaluator that he had no “previous problems involving his neck or mid back prior to the motor vehicle accident of May 12, 2003.” In fact, this was the second in a series of three Josh Powell car crashes from which he’d claimed injury. Josh had received similar treatment for neck and back pain following the first crash in June of 2000.

In the end, Pemco agreed to cover the lion’s share of the medical costs. It refused to pay for specific treatments provided by the second chiropractor, finding them to be “not reasonable.” Pemco, in turn, received reimbursement from Bob Powers’ insurance provider, State Farm.

Josh Powell insurance check scam car crash con
State Farm sent Josh and Susan Powell $6,160 as part of a settlement agreement following a low-speed car crash on May 12, 2003. The payment was in addition to reimbursements made for medical bills and property damage. Image: Josh Powell

Josh Powell’s own negotiations with the other insurance provider proved lucrative. He ended up receiving a check for more than $6,000, above and beyond the covered medical expenses.

Josh Powell on Unemployment​

A dispute over Josh and Susan’s missed work time as a result of the May 2003 car crash contributed to a worsening of their standing with their employer, Holiday Retirement. In a probationary move, they transferred to a different senior living center in Olympia, Washington toward the end of 2003.

Josh Powell Susan Powell work retirement community
Josh and Susan Powell appear in this undated photo from late 2003. The couple worked together as co-managers of two separate retirement communities at different points during that year. Photo: Unknown

However, that move brought Josh and Susan Powell physically closer to Steve Powell, who Susan had gone to great lengths to avoid in the months following her rejection of his love confession. So, in the waning months of the year, Josh and Susan decided to move to Utah.

The couple spent the first few months of 2004 living with Josh’s older sister, Jennifer Graves, and her family in West Jordan, Utah.

They obtained jobs with Fidelity through a temp agency. Josh lost his within a matter of days. By February, he was receiving unemployment insurance benefits from the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Susan Powell Insurance​

On Feb. 8, 2004, Josh filled out paperwork applying for private health insurance coverage from IHC Health Plans. On the form, he listed his occupation as “manager.” He did not disclose that he was unemployed.

Elsewhere on the form, Josh wrote that he and Susan were both in “great health.” On a section of the form dealing with past prescription medications, he omitted the pain medications both he and Susan had received after the May 12, 2003 car crash in Yakima.

Insurance application processing notes later recovered by West Valley City police through an investigative subpoena showed IHC Health Plans quoted Josh a 15% rate increase due to his and Susan’s recent neck and back pain.

Susan Powell insurance injury
Internal health insurance records captured the conversation between an agent, sales representative and underwriter involved in Josh Powell’s application for coverage in February 2004. Image: West Valley City, Utah police

Those processing notes included a history of contacts between the insurance agent, sales representative and underwriter. In one exchange, the agent described Josh as “quite difficult to work with” over a request for records related to the chiropractic treatment.

In the final exchange captured in the processing notes, the sales representative asked the agent what it was that Josh managed. The agent replied that she had learned Josh was actually “between jobs.”

Hear about the two other Josh Powell car crashes in a bonus episode of Cold: Car Crash Con

Episode credits
Research, writing, hosting and production: Dave Cawley
Production assistance: Danielle Prager, Adam Mason
Additional voices: Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell), Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell), Ken Fall (as Steve Powell)
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Cold main score mixing: Dan Blanck
Supplemental music: Dave Cawley
KSL executive producers: Sheryl Worsley, Keira Farrimond
Episode transcript:
KSL companion story: