From the Daily Press -
By Katharhynn Heidelberg Daily Press Senior Writer | 0 comments
The state should not proceed with citations against a mother whose two young children died in a wintry crash outside of Gunnison, her supporters say.
Jamie Dowling was cited with two counts of careless driving causing death, a misdemeanor offense. The Colorado State Patrol says Dowling failed on March 9 to maintain control of her vehicle on U.S. 50 as required by state law, and her two children died as a result.
But Bernadette Bifano, whose family members were first to respond to the wreck, says the state is out of line. She’s launched a petition at change.org in hopes of getting the District Attorney’s Office to drop the case.
“How can she be held responsible? It just blows my mind, it really does,” Bifano said. “I’m just trying to get the word out a little more. We have gone over 100,000 signatures at this point. We’re just trying to get as much support as we can for Jamie and get her through this as much as possible.”
Dowling had just moved to Gunnison County from Texas, Bifano said. She was driving near Parlin on March 9 with her children, Landryn, 5, and Rayleigh, 2, when her Chevy Cobalt spun out of control on the snow-packed road. It spun into oncoming traffic and was struck by a Chevy Beretta, whose drive sustained minor injuries, the CSP said previously.
Bifano’s mother, Joyce Alderet, heard the crash from her front yard. “It was snowing really hard. The roads were really bad,” she said. “As I walked toward (Dowling), she was screaming, ‘My babies are dead!’ “
Alderet said her fiancé rushed to help Dowling. Alderet called 911 and stayed on the line to relay information.
Rayleigh was found in the rear car seat with faint vitals.
“The little boy was already gone,” Alderet said. “The snow was coming down. The roads were really slick. Even (for) me, walking toward them was pretty hard,” she said.
Rayleigh was later pronounced dead. Dowling had sustained injuries that caused heavy bleeding to her head, Bifano and Alderet said.
“I’m very surprised that she was cited and is being charged,” Alderet said. “It’s heartbreaking. … It’s very unfair that this is happening to her. It’s a terrible thing. I just can’t believe they’re going through with this.”
Alderet and Bifano said they had been informed that though the roads were plowed that day, they had not been salted.
State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Nancy Shanks strongly disputed that report. “It was a heavy storm that day. They sanded, but it was snowing and storming. The road condition was certainly bad, as many of the roads were on that day,” she said.
“Plows were out, and sanding was done.”
The Alamosa-based CSP officer who had responded to the crash was off duty Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Mike Baker, a spokesman with the CSP’s headquarters, said he could not speak to the officer’s specific crash assessment.
“But based on the nature of the crash and that two people died, the (officer) felt that a citation was warranted. From a statutory perspective, the ticket could be warranted,” Baker said.
The careless driving statute requires motorists to maintain absolute control over their vehicles at all times, regardless of circumstances, including weather, he said.
“You have to be attentive to everything going on,” Baker said. “It doesn’t matter what the conditions are. You have to adjust your driving. By issuance of the citation, the investigation revealed that the driver did not exercise that due caution as she should have.”
Baker said he could not go into great detail because the case is pending. He said there were questions concerning whether proper child restraints were used and whether Dowling’s speed had been safe for conditions.
Bifano said Dowling was traveling at approximately 35 mph. The stretch of highway is marked at 65 mph in spots and at 55 mph through Parlin.
“We obviously sympathize. It’s horrible,” Baker said. “We don’t take any pleasure in issuing the citation. We respect people’s right to disagree, but we’re going to leave (charges) up to the DA. That’s not a debate we can get into.
“It’s very sad. We hate to see crashes like this. We understand that it’s devastating. It’s tough for our guys, too, but at the same time, we have to enforce the law consistently.”
Bifano indicated that it’s unreasonable to have expected Dowling to know she would lose control. “We’re looking at more nationwide press starting next week. If the governor and the DA don’t want to hear what we have to say, we’re going to make them hear it one way or another,” she said.
The DA’s Office confirmed a citation had been issued and said Dowling was advised on Tuesday. The next court date is April 30.
“This office is aware of the petition that is being circulated, and we are receiving information and comments from the public,” DA Dan Hotsenpiller’s spokeswoman said in an email.
“At this time, there is no comment as the case is open and under investigation.”
Anyone can create a petition on change.org, but Dowling’s case caught management’s eye, said Jon Perri, deputy campaigns director for the site.
“Part of what it’s doing is connecting a lot of people to Jamie’s story. We’re letting the DA know that it’s something many people in Colorado and around the country seem to disagree with,” he said.
Bifano said she is hopeful the petition will convince the state to drop the charges and that change.org has had past successes. “Maybe it wasn’t because of the petition, but that puts pressure on them to make the decision,” she said.
“Somebody that has human compassion wouldn’t do that to a mother who has just lost both of her children.”
To view the petition, go to http://tinyurl.com/jamiedowling.