Two years ago, on August 24, 2019, an American Peace Corps employee in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s after having too much to drink killed a woman leaving two others injured in a series of car crashes.
At the scene of the accident, bystanders attacked the man’s car and chased him on motorcycles as he attempted to flee the crime scene, slammed a pole and was detained by police.
Within hours, Peace Corps and US Embassy staff rushed the man, John M. Peterson, then the 65-year-old onto a plane and out of the country never to be seen, heard or prosecuted for what he did.
The woman killed by Perterson is Rabia Issa (47), a mother of three and a sole breadwinner for her family including her relatives.
The story never made it to the Tanzanian media and almost three years later there is still no sign that the officer will ever be brought to justice.
Tanzanian authorities were unable to charge him first, and the US Department of Justice later declined to file criminal charges because of a lack of jurisdiction.
The man remained on Peace Corps staff for 18 months before resigning in February 2021, the agency said.
The Peace Corps has a long history in Tanzania, being among the first two countries to participate in the program when it was established in 1961.
On that day, Issa was gathering firewood around dawn at the roadside stand where she sold fried cassava and other foods when a small SUV barreled out of the street and hit her.
“When we arrived at the scene, we found a huge crowd of onlookers looking at the lifeless body of our sister draped in a cloth lying on the ground,” her sister Hadija Issa told The Citizen as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“We don’t know anything about the man who killed my mother,” Benja Issa, Rabia’s 23-year-old son, said.
“When we went to the police the following day, he had already been released, and the car was taken away from the police station,” he added.
The incident was briefly mentioned to Congress in Peace Corps’ June report not mentioning important details connected to the accident including the date, place, name of the employee nor the deceased name and background.
USA TODAY has since interviewed sources familiar with the incident, including Americans who knew of the events at the time.
Peace Corp’s mission of promoting world’s peace and friendship seems to have been totally forgotten when it comes to Peterson’s case as the agency quickly cleaned up the mess, he left behind making sure to erase all the prints as well.
Carol Spahn, the agency’s chief executive who was country director in Malawi at the time of the incident declined to be interviewed and later sent a letter saying Rabia’s death “broke my heart and horrified me.”
“Nothing can replace the loss of Ms. Issa’s life or heal the harm experienced by so many, and my condolences go out to her family, the other victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by this tragedy,” Spahn added.
Of Peterson, she added, “The actions of this individual are in total contradiction to the values of the Peace Corps, and we strongly condemn them.”
Former Peace Corps director Jody Olsen, who led the agency at the time of the incident, never responded when contacted. “Representatives from the White House and the State Department also declined to be interviewed or did not respond to requests for comment,” The Citizen reports.
While officials at the Peace Corps in Washington knew of the incident, volunteers serving in Tanzania at the time were never told what had happened.
USA TODAY attempted to reach Peterson by phone, mail and in person. A man resembling photos of Peterson on his Tanzanian driver’s license answered the door and told a reporter he wasn’t Peterson, then said, “I don’t want you talking about me,” before closing the door.
Rabia’s relatives told USA TODAY they received Tsh20 million ~ $8,700 at the time when they had been evicted from their home and were told the money came from the company that insured Peterson’s vehicle.
Days after the incident, country director Nelson Cronyninformed volunteers and staff in an email that Peterson was “out of the country on leave, possibly for an extended time.”
Rabia’s family is struggling to pay for her youngest son’s education.
The family hopes that Peterson will be punished and the US government apologize for helping Peterson flee the country.
Roland Ebole, an expert on East Africa with Amnesty International based in Kenya, told The Citizen that he was not surprised to hear about the US involvement in helping Peterson flee the country as such incidents are common in Western countries.
“Justice rarely prevails because locals don’t have much power to follow it all the way to the end,” Ebole said.
Rabia hoped to make a better life in the city, and other relatives soon followed.
“Neighbors told us about the shocking news, which left us completely devastated,” Rehema Issa said.
Benja Issa, Rabia’s oldest son, said Tsh7 million of the money they received was taken by middlemen who helped the family communicate with officials from what he believed to be the company that insured Peterson’s vehicle.
Some went to repairs on the family’s home in Tunduru and to payments on a loan Rabia Issa had taken out for one son’s schooling, Benja Issa said.
“I feel a stabbing pain in my heart,” Benja Issa, said through tears. “This man ended the life of my mother. My brothers and I are suffering because of him, yet there’s nothing we can do.”
Benja had to identify her mother’s body at the morgue andon her death certificate cause of death was summarized in a single word – ‘unnatural’.
Peterson was detained by Tanzanian authorities. They took him to a police station, where he refused to take a breathalyzer and was released to receive medical attention.
The inspector general’s report does not give details on who brokered Peterson’s release. However, it says staff from both the US Embassy and the Peace Corps arranged for his departure.
The US government deemed it a medically necessary evacuation.
He was on a flight back to the United States within a day after the incident Us government calling it a medically necessary evacuation.
Rabia’s family said his vehicle had been towed to a police station in Dar es Salaam but was hauled away before they arrived and there are no records of the incident in the police station’s ledger.
After the incident in Tanzania, Peterson was assigned to Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, records show.
His payroll records show his salary had increased by $20,000 to more than $155,000 from what he had made in Tanzania.
In an odd coincidence, three days after Peterson killed Rabia Issa, the wife of an American diplomat in the United Kingdom Anne Sacoolas was accused of striking and killing a 19-year-old motorcyclist while driving on the wrong side of the road.
She left the country, and US officials declined to extradite her to face charges. The incident prompted a debate about diplomatic immunity,
The teen’s family, aided by a team of lawyers, later filed a lawsuit against Sacoolas in Virginia and reached a settlement this year.