(3TV/CBS 5) - A child's swing set stands in the backyard of a Phoenix home as a silent reminder of what's lost.

Five-year-old Logan Vegtel and his mom Jennifer were killed in a crash on State Route 51 in December.

[RELATED: Texting and driving: Should Arizona ban it?]

"She loved that little boy more than life itself," cried Jodi Edger, Jennifer's mom.

A pickup driver hauling a trailer plowed into the mother and her young son during rush hour.

Their car was hit as traffic was slowing down.

Photos of the aftermath of the crash show their KIA, a mangled chunk of metal where the trunk of the car forced into the back seat.

Logan was a kindergartner at Redfield Elementary in Scottsdale. He loved school and he loved dinosaurs.

Jennifer was married and would be 32 this month. She was planning her sister Nicole's upcoming wedding, and was buried in her Matron of Honor dress along with the Converse shoes the wedding party will wear.

"I miss her every day. She was my best friend," said the grieving mom.

Edger's tears gave way to another emotion during a sit-down interview with 3TV.

"Anger," she said emphatically.

She's angry because the driver who killed her daughter was able to walk away.

"You got to go home that night to your family. You got to go to work the next day. You got to have Christmas with your family," says Edger about the man who took her family away.

"Do I think he meant to do that? Absolutely not, but do I think he needs to be held accountable or anybody needs to be held accountable? Absolutely," she said.

The crash report shows Edgar Ramos Esteban's speed was too fast for the conditions as rush hour traffic on SR-51 was coming to a standstill. He hit Jennifer's car so hard the force thrust it 120 feet, slamming into not one, but two cars in front of them.

"I think he was distracted. I don't think he was paying attention to what was going on," explains Edger.

In this case, it's not clear why Ramos Esteban wasn't watching the road that night. He was cited for failure to control his vehicle to avoid a crash.

In 2017, DPS wrote 66,259 citations for that same violation -- ARS 28-701A. Many of them involve some sort of distracted driving.

"It just comes down to people not paying attention," explains DPS Trooper John Simon, who took our camera crew on a ride along to observe drivers' behaviors. He was one of the first on the scene after a driver who admitted to texting and driving killed Officer Clayton Townsend on the Loop 101 freeway.

[RELATED: DPS: Driver was texting when he hit, killed Salt River officer on Loop 101 in Scottsdale]

"It's surreal to go to a scene like that, knowing that someone who we work very closely with, the Salt River Police Department, had just died right there," described Trooper Simon.

People on their phones while driving happens every day. Arizona is one of the last three states without some sort of a statewide ban for all drivers, not just teenagers.

Trooper Simon pulled two drivers over and cited them for taking their eyes off the road and looking at their cell phones while they were driving on the freeway.

One of the drivers told the trooper he was answering a call on his hands-free system.

"Whether you're speaking to your phone, looking at your phone, checking a Facebook message or the time, you're looking down at your cell phone and you're distracted. That's the issue," Trooper Simon explained to the driver.

The drivers were ticketed for also violating ARS 28-701A. That same Arizona statute also states you can't drive faster than reasonable or prudent under the circumstances. If you're on your phone with your eyes off the road, the trooper explains, the only prudent speed is zero.

"Your body cannot react to a potential hazard in front if you are looking down at a cell phone," Simon said. "We drive a lot. We see a lot of behaviors."

They are behaviors often hard to miss. People swerving in their lane or even drifting across others.

The rules of the road are different in nearly two dozen jurisdictions across the state.

"I've seen people eating cereal, reading books, reading the newspaper, applying makeup, doing their nails," said Officer Robert Corueil, an aggressive driver detective with the Phoenix Police Department.

Back in 2007, the City enacted one of the first laws specifically banning texting and driving, which Officer Corueil admits, is not easy to enforce.

Problem is, you literally have to be texting to get busted. If you're on your phone checking social media or emailing, you're not violating the law.

"It's gonna take a cultural shift for everybody to come to the realization that texting and driving, using your cell phone and distracted driving, is not okay," said Detective Corueil.

A cultural shift behind the wheel is a long time in the making for Arizonans like teacher Amy Keifer Berard, hit by a car that was rear-ended by a guy who was texting.

"I pulled seven feeding tubes out of my body. I couldn't eat. And that's because this guy decided to text something," Keifer Berard told 3TV in 2016.

[RELATED: Family wants prison time for man who killed DPS officer]

Not even the death of a DPS trooper in 2013 sparked much of a push for change over the years.

Trooper Tim Huffman was killed on the side of Interstate 8 in 2013. He was responding to an accident when the driver of a semi truck plowed into him and the emergency vehicles at the scene. Video from inside the cab of his truck shows he was looking at social media on his cell phone behind the wheel.

But now the images of Salt River Police Officer Townsend’s baby boy who will grow up without his dad has struck the latest nerve after the driver who killed him said he was texting.

Townsend's family joined dozens of safety advocates and lawmakers at the Capitol two weeks ago as Sen. Kate Brophy McGee announced the newest attempt to outlaw not just texting, but distracted driving in Arizona.

"It takes one nano-second for you to end somebody's life," said the state senator to the crowd.

Sen. Brophy McGee proposed SB 1165, a hands-free law that bans all handheld cell phones behind the wheel. Similar bills have come and gone before the Arizona legislature over more than a decade with no success.

"There's an ideological opposition to government interfering in our right to conduct our everyday lives," Sen. Brophy McGee explained. She tells 3TV she believes this time, it's different.

"I think we have momentum like we've never had," the senator said.

She says she believes lawmakers finally have a change of heart about the public safety epidemic wreaking havoc on our roads.

"It's not the only thing, but it is something very important we can do that can make a difference and start saving lives," said Sen. Brophy McGee.

For Jodi Edger and her family, she knows a new law won't bring Jenn and Logan back, but she says standing up for safety helps her get through her grief.

She vows to do everything she can to try and make sure distracted driving laws are enacted across the state.

"I know that I have to continue on this for them and for the next person. If I can help one more person's family not get the call that I received at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, December 10th, let's go. The time is now to change. The time is now," said Edger.

According to NHTSA in 2015, there were 3,477 deaths and 391,000 people were hurt in car crashes involving distracted driving.

In Arizona, at least three counties and more than a dozen cities have enacted some sort of distracted driving law.

[RELATED: Distracted driving ban goes into effect for Glendale drivers today]

The latest city is Glendale, where all handheld electronic devices while driving are banned. A violation is considered a primary offense, which means the driver can get pulled over for it and the fine is $250.

Arizona's considered one of the most dangerous states in the country to drive. After California's latest all-out ban on handheld devices behind the wheel, a government report shows the number of fatal crashes and serious injuries is down.

Heather Moore anchors the Primetime News at 8, 9 and 10 weeknights on 3TV. She regularly reports on issues important to Valley residents, so be sure to watch 3TV weeknights.
 
 


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