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DIGGING DEEPER: Grieving mothers turn their tragedy into helping others

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TUCSON (KVOA) - The Distracted Driving law went into effect last spring with law enforcement giving drivers warnings if they were on their cell phones talking or texting.

As of Jan. 1, people have started getting tickets. This is a law two mothers hope will save lives.

When people get pulled over for distracted driving, besides the ticket, they also get a brochure that says the law is in effect and reminds the driver to keep their hands off the phone when they are behind the wheel.

"We never thought it would happen to us," Deborah Garcia said,

But in 2019, it did when Garcia lost her son. Julie Festerling also lost her daughter, Caitlin in the same crash.

It happened in Oro Valley near Overton and Shannon roads when the couple was stopped, waiting to make a left turn. The driver of another car slammed into Caitlin's car and pushed it into oncoming traffic.

"Seriously, just a moment's distraction can change your life forever," Festerling said.

Now, these two mothers are committed to turning their grief into helping others.

They have teamed up with "Look, Save-A-Life", as has Arizona State Trooper Tim Vargo.

"About 70% of my traffic stops were distracted driver related," Vargo said.

Since the beginning of the year, he' has handed out more than 20 tickets.

He got involved with "Look, Save-A-Life" after watching and hearing Julie and Deobrah's story.

"It hit my heart. At that very moment, I knew there was something that I needed to do, outside of my job or to even include my job," he said. "To help with this pandemic, which is what it really is."

In the meantime, the Pima County Attorney's Office continues to investigate the crash and the driver who rear-ended the young couple.

That driver was cited by Oro Valley Police for failure to control speed.

Last May, the county attorney's office told the families there was not enough evidence for an indictment. So they would not prosecute.

However, Amelia Cramer, who was then the chief criminal deputy told News 4 Tucson's Digging Deeper team if they came across new evidence, they would re-open the case.

Since then, the family said they have been assigned an investigator from the county attorney's office.

"He's also an accident reconstruction specialist," Garcia said. "Plus, they also told us they hired a special consultant who is a retired FBI investigator who is also investigating as well."

A petition with thousands of names was also turned into the Pima County Attorney's office and the Attorney General's Office.

Caitlin's father, Michael and his wife, Meghan spearheaded that issue.

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik is also involved in helping the families.

The families said the new law, and the addition of a new investigator, looks promising.

"It would be nice to see if the driver who caused the crash that killed our children would be held accountable for what she did," Festerling said.

The families also said they are very optimistic. With the new year, the new law and the new county attorney, they will be able to get justice for their children.

For more information, visit azdps.gov.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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