Texting tragedy: Fatal-crash driver goes to court
Calli Murray, who was killed by a car while crossing a street in Rohnert Park with her mother in 2010.
Kaitlyn Dunaway, 18 years old, stands in front of the judge in a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge case, Thursday May 19, 2011, at the Sonoma County Superior Court House in Santa Rosa, Calif. She was allegedly texting while driving and ran over and killed 2-year-old Calli Murray in Rohnert Park , December 1, 2010.
(05-19) 11:37 PDT SANTA ROSA -- Calli Murray, 2, was holding her mother's hand as the two crossed a Rohnert Park street on their way home from a park on a December evening. Sonoma State University freshman Kaitlyn Dunaway was driving along Snyder Lane, allegedly paying attention not to the road but to her texting.
The results were tragically predictable, prosecutors say, and an example of the dangers of one of the most insidious forms of distracted driving. As the 18-year-old Dunaway texted, her Honda slammed into Calli and Ling Murray, killing the girl and badly injuring her mother, authorities say.
Dunaway, 18, who graduated from Petaluma High School, made her first appearance today in Sonoma County Superior Court on a charge of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. She did not enter a plea as her attorney asked that the case be continued to June 16.
She declined to comment outside court while accompanied by her mother, Sandy Dunaway.
Sitting in the gallery of the Santa Rosa courtroom was Calli's father, Jeff Murray, 47, who said Kaitlyn Dunaway hasn't approached him or his family since the Dec. 1 crash. Even if she did, he said, neither he nor his wife would be ready. The pain over the loss of Calli - born on Christmas Day 2007 - is too fresh.
Calli was a "happy-go-lucky girl," her father said. "She spoke fluent Chinese and fluent English at 2 years old. Always full of energy, always full of life. She just brought joy to us."
Ling Murray, 40, suffered a broken leg, a shattered pelvis and broken arm in the crash. She spent a month at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and was at a Petaluma rehabilitation center until March.
Dunaway faces a maximum of one year in jail if she is convicted. Jeff Murray said he understood why prosecutors couldn't seek more.
"We can't beat the law - the law is the law, so we can't be sitting here being angry at the law and all this stuff that's going on, we just need to fix it," he said. "That's where our motivation comes, so if it does happen in the future, then the next family will get justice out of it."
He added, "We feel the loss of Calli, yes, but as far as the anger and stuff, I'm not going to sit here and say I'm angry or pissed off at this, because it's happened. I can't go back and change it. So we just have to let the courts do what they do, and we can try to fix the law."
District Attorney Jill Ravitch said Dunaway had been texting, driving at a speed that was unsafe for the conditions and had failed to yield to Calli and her mother - all unlawful acts that do not amount to felonies. That led to the decision to charge her with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.
Dunaway has a 2009 conviction for riding in part of a vehicle that is not designed to carry passengers, state Department of Motor Vehicles records show.
Her attorney, Chris Andrian said prosecutors had applied the law correctly and that his client is a "good young girl. She's an absolute sweetheart. She is remorseful and just devastated as anybody could possibly be.
"And yet," Andrian said, "she is also a young person. We've made all this technology available."
He added, "Assuming that texting had something to do with it - and I don't know 100 percent, but let's assume that it did - hopefully what you learn from this case is, this is one of those things that is used to educate the public and make the public more aware of the danger of it."
To Jeff Murray, the message is simple: "Distracted driving kills. I had a shirt made with that on there. It's not worth it. Put your phone down. And my wife said it best. She said, 'When the driver is safe, then the people are safe.' "
According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, distracted driving ranks with drunken driving and speeding as the leading causes of fatal and serious injury crashes.
In 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 20 percent of injury crashes involved some type of distraction, federal officials say. Cell-phone use was a factor in 18 percent of fatal crashes.
Safety experts sort distracted driving into three types. There's visual, such as taking your eyes off the road, manual - letting go of the steering wheel - and cognitive, or taking your mind off what you're doing.
Of all the varieties of distracted driving - eating and drinking, talking to passengers, changing the radio station - texting is the most dangerous because it involves all three types of distraction, according to safety experts.
Cell-phone dialing and texting can take a driver's eyes from the roadway for five to 10 seconds - longer than the sub-three seconds that a motorist typically has to react as a potential crash situation unfolds.
Teenagers make up the highest proportion of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes, at 16 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Next come drivers in their 20s, at 13 percent.