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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Anna Marie Reynosa admitted she was distracted by her cellphone on the night she crashed into 20-year-old motorcyclist Charla Wilkins, court records said.
Police and prosecutors say Reynosa was on her phone, speeding and ignored a stop sign when she rear-ended Wilkins on April 14 as Wilkins was stopped for a stop sign at the intersection of Jewetta Avenue and Reina Road. Wilkins died at Kern Medical Center after the crash.
On Wednesday, one charge of vehicle manslaughter with gross negligence was filed against Reynosa in Kern County Superior Court.
If convicted, Reynosa could serve up to six years in prison, according to a news release from the Kern County District Attorney's Office.
Supervising Deputy District Attorney Michael Yraceburn said as far as he knows, this is the first time the office has prosecuted a case involving texting and driving that caused major injuries or death.
While texting contributed to the crash, Yraceburn emphasized the totality of Reynosa's actions, including driving fast and not yielding to a stop sign.
"When you're talking about gross negligence, we're talking about the choices people make when they get behind the wheel," he said.
Reynosa, 20, was driving 63 mph to 68 mph in a 45 mph zone and didn't slow down before she hit Wilkins, according to a Bakersfield Police Department probable cause declaration filed in court. Though Reynosa lived in the area and drove through the intersection daily, she didn't brake for the stop sign, police said.
The woman acknowledged she was using her phone as she drove that night.
"(Reynosa) admitted to manipulating the phone and at one point to sending a text message while driving the vehicle," the police declaration said.
According to police, Reynosa blamed her faulty brake system for not stopping her vehicle before the crash, but investigators found the system was "deficient, but functioning."
Reynosa had consumed alcohol before the wreck but "not at levels inducing impairment," the declaration said.
Reynosa was arrested Thursday morning and booked into the downtown jail, according to the Kern County Sheriff's Department website. She is being held on $50,000 bail and her arraignment is set for Monday morning. Reynosa denied an interview request from The Californian.
The case is in the hands of the District Attorney's dedicated vehicle homicide team. The team of two attorneys, which Yraceburn supervises, is funded by a grant the office has received since October 2010 from the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The grant's focus is cases involving driving under the influence, but Yraceburn said Reynosa's case was added to the team's work because the Office of Traffic Safety fights against distracted driving.
"People have to understand that any distractions when you're driving a huge metal machine going very fast is dangerous," Yraceburn said.
The charge against Reynosa was welcome news for Mindy Cox, Wilkins' sister. Cox said it seemed like it was taking forever for Reynosa to be charged.
"I just hope she gets a reasonable amount of time, that she'll realize it's not a joke what she did," Cox said.
The criminal complaint against Reynosa was filed on the same day that a Massachusetts teenager was sentenced to a year in prison for a fatal crash involving texting and driving. Aaron Deveau was 17 years old at the time of the crash that killed a father of three and injured the man's girlfriend, according to the Associated Press. Earlier this week Deveau testified that he was distracted thinking about his homework when the crash occurred, not texting, the AP reported.
News of Reynosa's case also came as U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released his "Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving." LaHood also announced Thursday that California will get $1.5 million of federal money for a pilot program to test if more police enforcement paired with media exposure can reduce distracted driving, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation news release. The program is anticipated to start in fall 2012 and will cover eight counties in the Sacramento Valley area.