Family outrage: 2 killed in Chehalis traffic wreck but little punishment for driver
CHEHALIS, Wash. -- The families of the two women killed in a freeway crash say they're going to turn their grief and outrage into action. There's a strong belief by the families that a cell phone contributed to this tragedy.
It happened July 16 in the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 south of Chehalis. Traffic had snarled. The victims stopped along with everyone else. The suspect car did not. The state patrol says the 21-year-old driver never put her foot on the brake. The cruise control was still on. She slammed right into the victims' car at 77 mph.
Good friends Jody Bagnariol and Lis Rudolph died from their injuries the next day. Their families believe the young driver's husband was taking cell phone photos of themselves from the passenger's seat.
Gina Bagnariol-Benavides, Jody's sister, said the couple, "... chose to take a cell phone out in a car, pose for a 'selfie' with no regard for the fact they were driving a machine that could kill."
But Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer says there's no proof that caused the crash. Prosecutors reviewed the photos that were taken "The only photographic evidence we have actually supports the fact that she was looking forward at the time of the accident," Meyer said.
The prosecutor says it doesn't meet the legal requirement of 'criminal negligence', just 'ordinary negligence.' That is not a felony. Meyer, "It's kind of like if you look down to change a radio station or you look over your shoulder to make a lane change and the traffic changes in front of you."
"I'm sad, I'm sad that somebody can take two lives in any state, but in Washington state and walk away with a $550 ticket," said Bagnariol-Benavides.
We're not naming the driver because she hasn't been charged with a crime. That also means the family won't get the chance to face her. "Nothing will force her to stand up and do anything. We have never heard an apology," said Bagnariol-Benavides.
The families' next steps will be at the State Capitol where they hope to toughen laws against cell phone use in vehicles to make sure, "Lis and Jody don't die in vain," said Bagnariol-Benavides.. "They were two amazing women who were taken from us that day."
The bill they're supporting would make it a traffic infraction to read a cell phone or manually enter data. The trip to the Capitol will be a familiar one for the Bagnariol family. Jody's father, John Bagnariol, was speaker of the house several decades ago.