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Dunaway Could Face No Jail Time in Murray Death

Tentative deal over texting and driving accident stipulates three years probation and 300 hours of community service, pending the court's approval on Nov. 16. Dunaway's attorney says he wanted to take the case to court, but Dunaway insisted on plea

Kaityn Dunaway pleaded no contest to misdemeanor manslaughter in a Santa Rosa courtoom Thursday, nine months after the Sonoma State volleyball star 2-year-old Calli Murray and her mother Ling in a Rohnert Park crosswalk while texting and driving. Calli died at the scene and Ling underwent months of surgeries and physical therapy.

The complaint by the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office alleged that the death resulted from Dunaway sending text messages while driving, failing to yield the right-of-way in a crosswalk and driving at an unsafe speed for the conditions.

Dunaway, who was remorseful in court, , officials said, after a tentative agreement was reached between her attorney and presiding judge Bradford DeMeo. Instead, DeMeo said Dunaway could face three years of probation and 300 hours of community service in leiu of six months in jail.

Dunaway's community service will include speaking to high school students about the dangers of distracted driving.

DeMeo is expected to make the final decision when Dunaway goes back in court Nov. 16. The judge's finding follows a of court hearings where Dunaway delayed entering in to her plea.

DeMeo said of Thursday's decision that he wanted to review a pre-sentencing report from the County Probation Department before making his decision.

The case’s lead prosecutor, Craig Brooks, said outside the courtroom that the plea arrangement’s implementation would also depend on out-of-court prosecutorial arguments and statements from the Murray family.

Jeff Murray, husband of Ling Murray and father to Calli Murray who has rallied against distracted driving since the accident, made a tearful statement to the court Thursday in which he urged Judge DeMeo to consider jail time.

“I understand the driver would have to do community service speaking to schools, and trying to educate other kids about not using a cell phone (while driving),” Jeff Murray said. “I believe it would be a better benefit for the driver to spend some time in jail (in conjunction with community service) … This would give her, I believe, better experience to help kids understand the depths of how far this can go if it happens.”

In a discussion outside the courtroom, Dunaway’s attorney, Chris Andrian, said he believed Dunaway wasn’t at fault for the accident, adding that he had been prepared to take the case to trial but for Dunaway’s insistence on a plea agreement.

“There was very good evidence that could have exonerated Kaitlyn, not least of which was the initial police report that indicated it was not her fault,” Andrian said. “I was ready to defend this case, but our client never wanted it to go to trial … She feels overwhelming responsibility, and feels it would be disrespectful to put this whole thing — and to put the (Murray) family – through a trial.”

Adrian said a trial would have involved placing the blame on Ling
Murray.          

"Kaitlyn didn't want to go there," he added. "I support her decision."

Andrian said multiple witnesses stated that Ling Murray and her daughter entered the crosswalk abruptly as Dunaway approached in her car, failing to give her adequate time to stop for her vehicle.

Just before the collision, one driver who had stopped in the left-turn lane on Snyder Lane preparing to turn onto Medical Center Drive realized Murray and her daughter would not be able to make it across the street without being hit by Dunaway's car, and she made eye contact with Ling Murray and said, "Don't," Andrian said.

That was the position taken by the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety in its investigation, but prosecutors later commissioned an outside investigator who concluded that the blame lied with Dunaway, Andrian said.

Brooks confirmed the findings of the two investigations.

“We didn’t agree with (Rohnert Park’s) investigation, so we went to another expert who also disagreed with it 100 percent,” he said.

Brooks said the possibility of a trial precluded him from discussing the specific findings of either investigation.

While Andrian said Thursday’s tentative plea deal would in all likelihood be confirmed on the Nov. 16 sentencing date, Brooks said there was a strong possibility that DeMeo would choose to withdraw it.

“The judge doesn’t make a trial decision until after he’s heard from everybody,” Brooks said. “If the judge finds something that he believes isn’t in the interest of justice, he could withdraw (the plea arrangement).”

Brooks said the argument prosecutors present to DeMeo will depend largely on how the Murray family members say they want to proceed.

“When this first happened, (Jeff Murray) couldn’t understand why it wasn’t a felony,” Brooks said. “The answer is that these facts don’t rise to a felony level. But his position is that he’d like Dunaway to be able to make a difference to stop all this cell phone mania that’s going on, and that it would help for her to spend some jail time.”

The Murray accident has ignited a converstion regionally about . In addition, the city commissioned a citywide months after the accident, where an outside consultant found that the crosswalk where the Murrays were hit was unsafe. It has since been repainted, but .

Gov. Jerry Brown, however, legislation that would have increased distracted driving violations.

Editor's note, posted Sunday, Sept. 25. It has come to Patch's attention that use of a previously published photo of Kaitlyn Dunaway is unauthorized. Although Rohnert Park Patch was given consent by KTVU — Bob Swofford, managing editor of the Press Democrat, contacted us this week and notified us it was their photo and declined to give us permission to use it. We were unaware of this. 

An email sent May 19 to Patch from the news operations manager at KTVU stated: Here’s the photo—yours to use, as long as you credit KTVU. We bring this information forth in the interest of complete accuracy and transparency.

Petalumasaurus September 23, 2011 at 05:55 AM
In the paragraph towards the end starting “When this first happened" there is a reference to Murray that should be to Dunaway. Jail, guilty, community service. Pick two. If she does not own up to the "overwhelming responsibility" she feels, how does she fulfill the intent of the community service? Does she go out and speak to people about her mistake, then explain she and her family got a shameless lawyer and didn't have to admit guilt or do the time? And by shameless I mean someone who would delay court hearings continuously, but go to the press directly and blame the mother? He's just doing his job, but she and her family are paying the bill for those antics, eh? Is this someone who is ready to skip jail, skip a guilty plea, and go out into our community sharing what she's "learned?" The tactics displayed in this article make it clear, to me, that she is not.
Denise E Gordon September 23, 2011 at 04:40 PM
I don't know, it's hard for me to understand how someone could run over and kill a child in a crosswalk while texting on a cell phone and not do any jail time. I'm trying to get my head around this, but it makes no sense. Remorse does not exonerate guilt.
Goofpod September 23, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Slimy lawyers usually prevail. Sad situation, terrible outcome. But, this young girl will live her entire life with the guilt of a killed child on her soul. Jail time doesn't better the outcome, despite the sense of injustice. She pays her sentence every day of her life. I don't question her sincerity, only her lawyer's.
Angela Hart September 24, 2011 at 12:31 AM
Denise, I think the point you make is how the Murray family feels. He said on Facebook after the trial yesterday that "probation is not the answer." From everyone I've spoken to, this is a very, very hard case. I think it's a sign of how the law has not caught up with technology. What do you think?
Smokey September 24, 2011 at 03:25 AM
I'm glad decisions aren't made by keyboard commandos here and elsewhere. My FEELINGS about this are deep sadness for all parties involved, but my INTELLECT telling me not to blame anybody until all the facts are known. Does anyone else notice or care that THE POLICE REPORT AND THE WITNESSES PUT THE PEDESTRIANS AT FAULT? Of course not, because it doesn't support how everyone FEELS about this. Let's try to be grown ups here and save the judgement for those who have the FACTS. Once we have the FACTS, let's think critically about them and then form an opinion.
Dee Baucher September 24, 2011 at 05:03 AM
This is a heartbreaking result from a totally preventable tragedy. The victims must feel totally betrayed by this system of "justice". There is no excuse for the driver having hit them within a crosswalk. She was obviously too distracted with the texting; she should have been driving slow enough and carefully enough to stop in time, regardless of whether they were walking quickly or not. There is an obvious "conflict of interest" from the RP Dept. of Public Safety; the city would be responsible if the crossing was not safe enough, especially with a distracted driver. Their report about the accident should be considered tainted. The media should have done a better job in reporting this case, with better reporting about the details of what occurred, especially since the backroom deals with lawyers and judges will only obscure the facts of what actually transpired. It is important for the public to get a better understanding of this very telling case.
james wilson September 24, 2011 at 01:15 PM
All of the above coments are good advise but the bottem line no one will tell it like it is. When we are responsible for others we should not go somewhere without looking to see if the car is stoping.Not slowing or eye contact but coming to a stop!
Bradford A Morris September 24, 2011 at 01:30 PM
Wong place at the wrong time. I am very sad for all. Taking away a life of a person is wrong but I also think was it intentional or an accident. ( mistake ) I believe Kaityn made a very big mistake and should be accountable and the judge decision is a good one. The courts let people who do things with total intent which is no accident by any means go. I know as I was beat up and had a gun pulled on me with intent to kill my son and I over a parking space, and the courts let him go as he pleaded he was a minority and did not understand our laws. The guilt will be a tatto on this young adult for the rest of her life and her family will share some of the guilt as well as people will look down on them which I think is wrong. I would never want to hurt or kill someone. Could I make a mistake reaching to the radio, or eating something or day dreaming or rubber necking looking at something else? Sure everybody could. That was not intential and she should not take up jail space that should house real horrible people like the mother who told their son to shoot me and the son who tried because they did not get a parking spot. My question I ask you all have you ever made a mistake that you regret but did not do on purpose? You know the answer is yes! I wish less pain and sadness for both and will pray for the Murray family to have pease and not vengeance but understanding that the Dunaway family and Kaityn would go back to that day and change it if they could. .
Dee Baucher September 24, 2011 at 05:52 PM
A woman walking with a young child must be able to depend on the rules of law, with regard to crossing in a crosswalk. She can never accurately predict, ahead of time, that a car will plow through an intersection, unless she concludes that traffic laws will be ignored. It is not incumbent upon her to avoid crossing an intersection where a driver/car might decide to break the law. It is incumbent upon the driver to follow our laws, which are put in place, specifically, because of the potential for this type of disaster. "Blame the victim" is totally out of line in this case.
Smokey September 24, 2011 at 10:10 PM
We all get it- texting and driving is bad. I'd bet the DA wants to make an example of somebody, but this isn't the right case. Why else would they hire a private investigator to disagree with the cops? As far as the conspiracy theory about the city escaping liability by blaming the pedestrians, how does that prove that the road was or wasn't designed properly? Looks to me like the pedestrians are at fault here. The law says you have to yield to people in a cross walk, but it also says you can't enter a crosswalk if a car is coming at a distance that would be a hazard.
Sandra September 28, 2011 at 04:18 AM
This is a heartbreaking case. Should jail time been given? YES, how much is the big question.... What's further heartbreaking is the number of people still driving while talking and texting. (I see at least 5 every day, as I make my commute from RP to Petaluma and back).
stevie November 15, 2011 at 01:26 AM
The texting while driving is out of control! People who text know that there is a possibility of crashing, they are willing to gamble... now there a family out their that has lost a child mother who needs a lifetime of therapy a father(husband) who get to inherit all the the grief,therapy appt, missed birthdays.etc. im sorry but the driver knew that its illegal yet she drove while texting. 2years jail plus community service and talking at the schools is a small price to pay for the life time of grief all the familys(both sides) have to endear for the rest of there life.

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