From pain to purpose: Mothers take on distracted driving

Updated: Sep. 16, 2020 at 10:23 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Two grief-stricken mothers are turning their agony into action.

Crosses, pictures, flowers and memorabilia mark the spot near Shannon Road and Saguaro Divide where 22-year-old Paul Garcia and 21-year-old Caitlin Festerling took their last breaths.

“Every day I have to drive by it, every day I have to live it,” said Paul’s mother, Deborah Garcia.

On Nov. 13, 2019, Paul and Caitlin were heading home from a shopping trip in Oro Valley when they were rear-ended on Shannon Road. Their car was pushed into the path of an oncoming pick-up truck. They did not survive the crash.

KOLD News 13 obtained a 72-page incident report from the Oro Valley Police Department. Investigators say there were no skid marks at the scene of the crash to indicate the driver who hit Paul and Caitlin from behind tried to brake. Phone records later showed the driver had sent and received text messages at 3:39 p.m. and 3:40 p.m., one minute before the first 911 call.

“Wanting to know if someone was at baseball practice was not worth two lives,” Garcia said. “It’s just not.”

It’s been 10 months and three days since Paul and Caitlin’s deaths. Not one day has gone by without tears.

“It’s a really empty, weird feeling,” said Caitlin’s mother, Julie Festerling. “It’s like the joy has left.”

Paul and Caitlin were together for about a year and a half before they died. According to family, the two had big dreams and talked about getting married someday.

Festerling says the grief can be consuming.

“It’s definitely easier to stay home and curl up and be sad and depressed,” said Festerling, “but I know that’s not what Caitlin and Paul would want.”

So instead, Festerling and Garcia became board members of ‘LOOK! Save a Life’. The nonprofit was started by Brendan Lyons, a former firefighter who narrowly escaped death after being struck by a distracted driver while riding his bicycle.

“We are going to high schools sharing their stories, sharing my story, sharing all kinds of stories,” Lyons said.

They will also be lobbying for tougher distracted driving penalties.

“In Oro Valley, which is the jurisdiction where it happened, it’s $60 for texting and driving and $250 for causing an accident while texting or being distracted,” said Garcia. “We need the fines and penalties to be like drunk driving.”

It won’t bring Paul and Caitlin back, but the two say they will fight to prevent more senseless deaths on the road.

“Absolutely!” said Garcia. “For the rest of my life.”

“Put the phone down,” said Festerling. “If you cannot break the habit of not picking it up when you’re driving, put it in the back seat or the trunk. Pretend it isn’t there. It just isn’t worth it.”

The Pima County Attorney’s Office tells us they can’t comment on the case as it is still under investigation. Garcia and Festerling have an appointment at the Pima County Attorney’s Office on Thursday, where they hope to get some of their questions answered.

Copyright 2020 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.