Carl and Meryl Rowley’s son, Kyle had just finished his freshman year at Coastal Carolina University, and had plans on becoming a chef. Driving home from a summer job the night of May 15, 2011, his car ran out of gas on Route 7 near Dranesville Manor Drive, in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Rowley had flipped on his emergency flashers, gotten out of the car and was pushing it off to the side of the road. It was 10:30 p.m. A Kia Amati, driven by Jason Gage of Alexandria plowed into the back of the Rowley car, and then hit Rowley, killing him.
A driver of another car that had easily passed Jason moments before the crash, saw it in his rear view mirror, stopped, and called 911. Prosecutors say that cell phone registered the time of the 911 call as being received at about 10:31 p.m.
Detectives at the scene found no skid marks, nor were there any signs that alcohol or drugs had been involved. So what was the reason for this senseless accident that resulted in the death of young Rowley?
Detectives found that a text message was still open on Gage’s cell phone, and further examination of the cell phone showed the time of the message was 10:31 p.m. This coincided with the 911 call made by the driver who had called the accident in to authorities.
Gage was charged with reckless driving, punishable with up to a year in jail. But due to a technicality in the law governing texting while driving, which is punishable with a $20 fine, Gage was cleared of the charge of reckless driving and the case was dismissed.
The judge in the case had no recourse but to rule in favor of the defense. He did go on to say it was a case of interpreting the law as it was written, and there was no question that texting while driving would have been considered reckless driving before the legislature made it a traffic infraction.
Why did this happen? He was texting while driving, yes. But he wasn’t charged with that crime, a minor offense under Virginia law. He was charged with reckless driving. Defense lawyers said that prosecutors had failed to prove the charge because no evidence was submitted showing Gage was speeding or otherwise driving erratically.
The point is that the law as it now stands does not include texting while driving as a reason to have a charge of reckless driving used. The legislature had made texting while driving a minor offense.
Eight distracted driving bills died in a Republican-dominated Virginia House of Delegates this year. Republicans had resisted changing the law because they thought it was sufficient to handle most texting related driving offenses.
That apparently will change when the legislative body starts the new session next year. In the meantime, the Rowley family is left to wonder how the law has failed them, leaving them without closure in the death of their son, Kyle Rowley.