Police say driver who hit 3 children may have been texting

Published: Tuesday, May 14 2013 5:35 p.m. MDT

United Fire personnel administer to one of three children injured while crossing in a crosswalk on 700 West and 8000 South Tuesday, May 14, 2013, in Midvale.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

MIDVALE — On the day Utah's new law restricting cellphone use for teen drivers took effect, police say a man who hit three young girls in a crosswalk may have been texting.

The youngest of the girls, a 9-year-old, suffered a head injury and was taken from the scene in critical condition after she was struck near 700 West and 8000 South. By Tuesday night, she had been upgraded to fair condition at remained at Primary Children's Medical Center. Her name was not immediately released.

Her friends, Jennifer O'Dell, 14, and a Stacy Smith, 10, went home with scrapes and bruises. They were on their way to play in the sprinklers about 3:35 p.m. when a driver in a Mazda Protege hit all three of them.

Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said the driver, a 28-year-old man, may have been texting when he hit the girls. The man said he never saw them, Hoyal said. The man was cooperating with investigators as they continue to investigate, he said.

Stacy said she doesn't remember much about the accident, only that she was scared.

"I blacked out for a second," she said. "I didn't know if my friends were OK."

Stacy's mother, Cheryl Segler, said the man is lucky the girls weren't killed.

"It makes me really mad," Segler said Tuesday night. "I'm not sure what's going to happen to the gentleman that did this to all of our children, but it's a serious crime and something more than piddly charges need to come about."

Jennifer's aunt, Jaime Ammons, worries that drivers are being careless in an area where children are frequently crossing the street. The scene of Tuesday's accident is within a mile of Midvale Elementary and Midvale Middle School.

Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, sponsored HB103 as a "first step" toward safer roads. But accidents like Tuesday's make Perry wonder whether the next step is stricter laws for everyone who gets behind the wheel.

"In this case, we did it, obviously, for teens, to change their behavior and help lead to better adult behavior," Perry said. "We may have to make the same situation for adults as well, because when we make personal choices as adults that impact other people, sometimes we have to change the laws to make sure we're not hurting other people."

Nine people in the United States are killed every day due to distracted drivers, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 1,060 people are injured.

In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, 64 more people than the year before.

The new law would have had no impact on the 28-year-old man accused of hitting the girls Tuesday, but he will be subject to the state's heightened texting laws, which went into effect May 2012.

Texting while driving can be prosecuted as a class C misdemeanor, while charges for texting accidents causing serious injury or death can be elevated to a class B misdemeanor or third-degree felony.

Perry recalls the initial objections when graduated driving laws were put in place for teens, prohibiting them from driving with friends for a period of time and keeping them off the road late at night.

Almost 10 years later, the benefits are apparent, and cellphones are the next challenge that must be tackled, he said.

As teens learn from the new cellphone laws, Perry hopes adults will follow their example. In the meantime, distracted driving accidents will continue until the public steps up and says "enough is enough," he said.

"That's what I heard during the (2013 Legislature). People were like, 'Well, hey, way to go for the teens, but why not do it for all adults?'" Perry said. "Maybe that's where we end up taking this."

Contributing: Alex Cabrero

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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