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Getting the message out in a different way: mothers hope to curb distracted driving with new campaign

Updated: Apr. 14, 2021 at 10:56 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - April is ‘Distracted Driving Awareness’ month and two mothers are determined to make the most of it. Julie Festerling and Deborah Garcia know exactly what can happen when a driver takes their eyes off the road.

“It hits us extra hard this month,” Festerling said.

So, they have launched a new campaign.

“Phones down. Eyes Up. Just Drive.” The short message runs across the marquee at Mountain View High School. Similar signs are also displayed at about half a dozen other schools across Pima County.

“I hope [drivers] take it seriously, I hope it stops them for just a minute,” Garcia said.

On November 13, 2019, 22-year-old Paul Garcia and 21-year-old Caitlin Festerling were waiting to make a left-hand turn when their vehicle was struck from behind. They were pushed into oncoming traffic, towards their deaths.

The Oro Valley Police incident report later showed the woman who rear-ended Paul and Caitlin had sent and received text messages one minute before the first 911 call.

“We have to do something so that their deaths are not overlooked or in vain,” Garcia said.

So, the two mothers have partnered with schools, churches and businesses.

They are also handing out pamphlets to drivers education instructors, like Bill Honer.

“Some of the problems I am seeing with these kids is they think they are invincible and nothing is going to happen to them ... until it does,” said Honer, who teaches at Mountain View. “They are driving a 5,000-pound vehicle and it’s a missile. They have to take it very seriously.”

With teenagers increasingly connected to their smartphones, breaking the bad habit behind the wheel is not an easy task.

“Mom and dad have to reinforce it,” said Horner. “Mom and dad have to make sure they are modeling good behavior.”

For Garcia and Festerling, looking up at the Mountain View sign brings a surreal feeling. Just 5 years ago, they were on school grounds for a very different reason: Paul and Caitlin’s graduation.

“We never in a million years thought we would be standing in front of the school, telling people to put their phones down,” Festerling said.

“It’s too late for us, but maybe we can save somebody else,” Garcia said.

Distracted driving is now a ticketable offense in Arizona. As of January 1, 2021, people caught on their phones can face a $75 to $250 fine. A phone may not be in a person’s hand or lap while driving and can only be used in ‘hands-free mode’ or to call 911.

The Festerling’s and Garcia’s are still fighting for justice. A year and a half after the crash, their case is still under investigation. If charged, it would be the first distracted driving incident in Oro Valley to go before court.

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.