Bill pushes for harsher punishments for distracted drivers

By Mike Vasilinda - Tallahassee Bureau Chief

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Hundreds of teens from around the state heard firsthand Wednesday what can happen to families when they drive drunk or distracted.

Rep. Irv Slosberg successfully put Florida's first texting while driving laws on the books last year, making it a secondary offense, but now he wants to send offenders away for 30 years for killing while texting and driving.

"It was scary, just seeing what not wearing one little strap can do to you," said teen driver Gretchen Bethel. 

The harshest messages Wednesday came from families who've lost a loved one. Gary Catronio lost his daughter Marisa when an impaired driver drove the wrong way on the Sawgrass Expressway last November.

"You knew you were in no proper state of mind or condition to drive that vehicle but you did it," said Catrinio. "Because of that naivety that evening my daughter's no longer with us. We only have memories."

Slosberg created a foundation after his daughter Dori was killed a decade ago.

"They're punching in things on their GPS," Slosberg said.

Now Slosberg has filed a bill that would put someone behind bars for up to 30 years if they kill someone while texting and driving.

"You shouldn't be texting and driving, it's a free-for-all out there," Slosberg said.

Fraternity brothers who lost four of their own killed on Interstate 275 in a wrong way crash said they hope something positive comes from the deaths.

"They're the brothers we hang out with every day," said Rah Patel, a University of South Florida student. "We saw them earlier that day and then to know you'll never see them again is just an indescribable feeling." 

Automated signs that flash and say call 911 will go up in Miami and Orlando early this summer. A similar pilot in Texas cut wrong way crashes by a third.

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