Think of Emily, Denise and Lee before making a risky move behind the wheel

Joe Tarica
Joe Tarica

Driving is very much on my mind these days now that our elder child has a permit to operate a motor vehicle.

She can’t go anywhere by herself yet, but I’ve already had one moment where I reached over and pushed the steering wheel after a parked car loomed uncomfortably close on the right side.

And it’s only been a week.

I have all the faith in the world that she will be as careful with this new responsibility as she has been with everything else, but it does carry a new level of risk unlike anything that’s come before.

Even responsible, experienced drivers can get into trouble suddenly, and potentially tragically, when cars are involved.

And irresponsible drivers are a downright hazard to society, as in the cases of three who were in the news last week.

In each, innocent people — not the drivers — were the ones who ended up dead.

On April 30, Denise Fox of Santa Margarita was killed when she was hit head-on by Jessica Lea Allred, 23, of San Luis Obispo, who was arrested on suspicion of felony DUI.

On April 15, 16-year-old Emily Reyes of Wasco was killed when the car she was riding in crashed into a guardrail and a tractor-trailer on the Cuesta Grade. The driver, Gino Lopez, 21, of Arvin, pleaded not guilty last week to a litany of serious charges, including murder, vehicular manslaughter and gross negligence, and felony DUI.

And on Thursday, Joseph Mondo of Paso Robles was sentenced to 75 days in San Luis Obispo County Jail, 50 hours of community service and some amount of restitution after pleading no contest to two misdemeanor counts of vehicular manslaughter for causing a November 2014 collision that killed Lee Hekyung Craig of Los Angeles and badly injured Lawrence Chong of Seal Beach, who were cycling on Nacimiento Lake Drive.

Mondo, who was 18 at the time, was distracted reaching for his cellphone and nearly hit another vehicle before colliding with the cyclists. He was already on probation for a misdemeanor exhibition of speed conviction and had a history of traffic-related offenses.

All of these cases involved young drivers engaging in foolish behavior. And all had devastating consequences.

We’ll have to see how the first two turn out as they move through the courts, and I’d expect harsher penalties because they involve suspected DUIs. But I’m still surprised by the light sentence in the Mondo case.

The judge went easy on him because of his age. But two and a half months in jail and a paltry 50 hours of community service seems a small price to pay for a lost life, especially for someone who had a record as a poor driver.

Mondo did not learn his lesson when ticketed for earlier traffic violations. But apparently he has now. He was contrite in court and has accepted responsibility.

“It has changed my life,” he said.

The thing is, we don’t want it to come to this. It shouldn’t take someone dying for reckless drivers to realize the error of their ways.

And yet we see stupid behavior on the roads all the time by people who put others at risk because of their own selfishness, whether it’s by outright driving impaired or simply assuming the highway is their personal playground.

Slow down, don’t drink and drive, be polite and pay attention when you’re behind the wheel.

All around you are other people’s loved ones. They don’t want to be come a statistic, and neither do you.