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Calli Murray Death Ignites Conversation about Classifying Texting and Driving as DUI

The toddler was struck and killed Dec. 1 by Sonoma State student Kaitlyn Dunaway, who was texting and driving when she ran over the 2-year-old. Now family and friends want to take cause—distracted driving—to the capitol.

Ling and Jeff Murray, the parents of 2-year-old Calli, who was struck and killed while walking in a crosswalk with her mother Ling near Sunrise Park on Dec. 1 by a Sonoma State student, who has admitted to texting and driving, have a message for the community: Please stop talking on cell phones and texting while driving.

Rohnert Park police have confirmed that Kaitlyn Dunaway, 18, was using her cell phone when she .

In the three months since the accident, a band of community activists have . They’ve gathered signatures for a petition to get the crosswalk at the intersection of Snyder Lane and Medical Center Drive lit up at night. A small group of Rohnert Park moms volunteer their time every weekday, morning and afternoon, to cross the hundreds of kids who funnel through that same crosswalk from the five area schools.

Though the memorial to Calli has been taken down from Sunrise Park, and for some, the terrible accident remains just a memory, citizens here aren’t staying quiet.

Christal Barquero last night came to the City Council meeting. Instead of telling her story, that she was one of the drivers to witness the accident, like she’s done five times before, this time she asked what she can do.

“How can I help to stop the illegal use of phones in vehicles in Rohnert Park?” Barquero asked the Council. “Calli and Ling’s tragedy that happened can be a sad story to a lot of people, but it has to be more than that.”

Barquero, herself a Rohnert Park mother, said she sees people daily on their cell phones while driving.

“I don’t know what to do to stop this,” she said. “But one of the things that I know would catch my attention, and I think many people’s, is money. Can we raise the penalty? Can we start here and move all the way up to Sacramento?”

Mayor Gina Belforte said normally the Council doesn’t answer questions during the comments period of meetings, but this was different, she said. She asked Chief Brian Masterson to address Barquero.

“I would agree with what Christal has stated — it’s a problem all over California and across the country, not just here in Rohnert Park, although we’ve been hit pretty hard with the tragedy back in December,” Masterson said.

“It seems to be such a part of our day-to-day society, that we’re all connected to our cell phones and our Blackberrys,” Masterson said. “We’re doing what we can in Public Safety in terms of enforcement.”

Masterson said the fine is much like seatbelt fines: small.

“The first violation is $35 and then it goes up incrementally, so for some people even if they’re cited it’s not that big of an impact on their pocket,” he added. “But the fine amounts set by state legislature, we don’t control that in Rohnert Park.”

A total of 281 people were cited for cell phone use violations in 2010, according to Sgt. Jason Krauss, a traffic officer with Public Safety. But the statistics are broken down in six month periods of time. From January 2010 to June 2010, there were 184 citations, and then from July to December 2010, there were nearly a hundred less — at 97.

“I like to think that’s because people are educated about the law and are obeying it,” Krauss said. “But it could be that officers are not enforcing it as much.”

In Petaluma, a town of about 60,000 people, 791 citations were issued last year; in Sebastopol, a town with a population nearing 8,000, 112 citations were issued in 2010 and in Cotati, whose population is about 7,100, a total of 43 citations were written.

The intersection of Medical Center Drive and Snyder Lane, where the Murrays were struck, didn’t make Rohnert Park’s most dangerous intersections last year, despite the accident. The most dangerous in terms of collisions and accidents were Rohnert Park Expressway and Commerce, with 16 total collisions, Expressway and State Farm, with eight and Redwood Drive and Expressway, with seven.

“The statistics show that that area isn’t a problem,” Krauss said. “It’s important for pedestrians to understand rights of way and for drivers to be aware of pedestrians.”

The Department of Public Safety uses these statistics to determine where to focus patrol efforts on the city’s streets. But more recently, police said, they’re listening to the citizens of Rohnert Park to find out where they should concentrate community policing.

“One of the things we’ve done in Public Safety … is have more contact with public,” Masterson said. “One of the ways we do that is through positive traffic enforcement. We have issues citations and written warnings for driving or texting while using a cell phone.”

“Speaking out is a step to bring attention to it,” Masterson added.

Another way to stop cell phone violators is to put plain-clothes officers out on the streets and test crosswalks, though Sgt. Krauss said the department hasn’t done that yet at the intersection where the Murrays were hit.

Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook said Feb. 23 the her office hasn’t yet determined whether or not to file charges against Dunaway yet.

“We’re carefully and thoroughly reviewing the case and looking at investigative reports,” Cook said. “We don’t have a filing determination at this time.”

Join the Murrays at a fundraiser this weekend at , organized by Petaluma-based nonprofit Fabulous Women.

“It’s a way for the community to come together,” said Krista Gawronski, who started the organization in 2006 with her friends. “Charity doesn’t have to be so painful, it can be celebratory. In the case of the Murray event, we want to build social conciousness about cell phone use and public safety.”

“This is such a tragedy, but there’s definitely a huge lesson to learn,” Gawronski said.

Editor's note: The Calli Murray fundraiser is from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. this Sunday at Sally Tomatoes. The venue is donated by Gerard Giudice, and a host of other companies are donating time and raffle prizes such as bluetooths for the event. Rohnert Park Patch will bring you full coverage of the event. Organizers say it's a chance to honor Calli, to support the Murray family and to raise awareness about the dangers of texting and driving.

Alexis Fitts February 23, 2011 at 11:22 PM
This is a great piece of work Angela on a really pressing issue. Kudos.
Ramona February 24, 2011 at 09:15 PM
I see lots of people still talking on their cell while they're driving without using hands-free accessories or their OnStar phones instead. I'm not sure what can be done to stop this talking on the cell or texting while driving because it is absolutely dangerous. There are not enough highway patrol or police out there to catch everyone who violates the supposed law. I think the penalty should be a lot tougher, like jail time even for a first offense since everyone knows and it should be common sense not to talk on a cell or text while driving. Just like everyone knows you shouldn't drink and drive but they still do it so it should be jail time no matter what.
Karina Ioffee February 25, 2011 at 06:02 AM
Great story, Angela and great access. Way to go!
dimar May 25, 2011 at 09:54 PM
this was the most poorly edited video that did nothing to further this cause. terrible job.
Angela Hart May 25, 2011 at 09:59 PM
I appreciate you comment dimar, but I disagree. This is a message from a woman who agreed to speak firsthand about the dangers of what texting and driving can do. I stand by the video, in that I think it shows the reality of the situation. Of course it is not heavily edited; I wanted Ling to be able to speak about what happened to her without me changing the context or meaning of what she said — she has a valuable message. I welcome your comments and appreciate the dialogue however. This is an important conversation to have.

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