Teen driver was on phone when child hit, killed

A teenaged driver was using her cell phone Dec. 1 when she drove through a Rohnert Park crosswalk, hitting and killing a 2-year-old child and seriously injuring the child’s mother, Rohnert Park Public Safety Department officials said Tuesday.

Police haven’t confirmed whether Kaitlyn Dunaway was texting or talking when she crashed, however the phone was “a diversion from her attention to the roadway” at the time of the accident, according to Sgt. Jeff Nicks.

“At this point we’ve got some preliminary information that the cell phone was at use by the driver,” Nicks said. “We’re not releasing exactly how it was in use, but that should be revealed when we get results from the search warrant.”

The warrant for Dunaway’s cell phone records will show whether she was in texting mode or talking when the accident occurred and how long the device was in use.

Police officials don’t believe Dunway, a Sonoma State University freshman was speeding and found no evidence that she had been otherwise debilitated, Nicks said.

Calli Murray, who would have turned 3 on Christmas Day, and her mother Ling Murray, 40, were walking home from Sunrise Park just after dark when they set about to cross Snyder Lane. They were walking hand-in-hand, about 10 feet into the crosswalk,  when Dunaway’s 1997 Honda struck them at about 5:30 p.m., police officials said.

Dunaway braked and “stopped as soon as she could,” Nicks said.

Two officers, one in a patrol car and one on motorcycle, had just pulled a vehicle over on Medical Center Drive and heard the crash. They ran to the Murray’s aid and instructed Dunaway to park the car a few yards further down Snyder Lane.

Another driver was stopped at the crosswalk in a left-hand turn lane and saw the accident, police officials said. A witness told police that Dunaway appeared to have been traveling between 25 and 30 mph, below the posted 35-mph speed limit, officials said.

Officers will determine a more precise speed after they complete an analysis of the damage to Dunaway’s Honda, the point where the car stopped and other evidence at the scene, Nicks said.
Police do not feel that speed was a factor in the incident.
Ling Murray endured major injuries, including a broken pelvis, broken legs and facial injuries, her family said.

Murray  had surgery on her left leg and pelvis Monday and was resting before another surgery scheduled for Wednesday, said her step-father-in-law, Al Andres of Hartley, Del. Murray  remained in a medically-induced coma, he said.

Rohnert Park residents have mobilized around the Murray family. Some have called for city officials to improve safety conditions at mid-block crosswalks like the one on Snyder Lane at Medical Center Drive, where this accident occurred.

Mayor Pam Stafford and other Rohnert Park city officials, have declined to comment on the safety concerns.

Though pedestrians in crosswalks have the legal right-of-way, they must be on guard when entering the roadway when there is oncoming traffic, especially at night, Sgt. Nicks said.
“We’re taking a risk every time we walk out into traffic,” Nicks said. “We assume everybody in the roadway is paying attention. As pedestrians and as drivers, we need to be cognizant of what we’re doing at all times.”

“An incident can take place in a fraction of a second and change our lives forever,” Nicks was also quoted as saying.