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Rohnert Park Woman Sentenced In Texting-While-Driving Death

SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) -- A Rohnert Park woman was sentenced to three years of probation and 120 days in the Sonoma County jail and under home confinement for killing a 2-year-old girl in a crosswalk as she drove while texting in her car in December.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Bradford DeMeo ordered 19-year-old Kaitlyn Dunaway to serve five days of her term in custody starting Dec. 27 and 115 days under electronic home confinement beginning Jan. 27.

He also ordered the Sonoma State University student to serve 200 hours of community service that entails speaking to high school students and community service clubs and organizations about the dangers of distracted driving.

Dunaway struck and killed Calli Murray and seriously injured her mother Ling Murray, 42, both of Rohnert Park, in the crosswalk at the intersection of Snyder Lane and Medical Center Drive in Rohnert Park on Dec. 1.

She pleaded no contest on Sept. 22 to a misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter. DeMeo indicated at the time he would sentence Dunaway to 300 hours of community service, three years of probation but would suspend a six-month jail sentence.

However, the judge said Wednesday morning he read something in the 20-page report by the county probation department that caused him to change his "perspective."

DeMeo then informed defense attorney Chris Andrian he planned to require Dunaway to serve five days in jail and subsequent home electronic confinement.

Andrian said that left Dunaway the choice of withdrawing her no contest plea and going to trial, or accepting the judge's new indicated sentence.

"She said if he (the judge) thinks it is fair, I'll take it," Andrian said.

Deputy District Attorney Craig Brooks said the judge changed his mind because he was impacted by the probation report.

"All the facts showed there was active texting going on while driving up to the intersection. She was texting to a friend that started with the word 'almost' then there was gibberish," Brooks said.

Dunaway initially denied she was texting when she talked to Rohnert Park police, Brooks said.

Andrian said there is no question Dunaway was texting before the collision.

Rohnert Park police, however, concluded the accident was Murray's fault, Andrian said. The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office then hired an accident reconstruction expert from Wyoming who concluded Dunaway was at fault because she was texting, Andrian said.

Andrian said his own investigation concluded Rohnert Park police were correct and Murray was at fault.

Dunaway never wanted to go to trial if it meant "proving a mother killed her daughter," Andrian said.

"The judge saw the facts instead of the defense's version of the facts," Brooks said, maintaining Dunaway was culpable and the collision was not an accident.

Several members of Murray's family spoke about the impact the death and injury has had on them.

In a letter to the court, Ling Murray, who was not present, detailed the injuries she suffered and her ongoing physical therapy.

She recalled seeing her daughter "cold and lifeless in her coffin" and spending whole days in Calli's room after her death "to be with her."

"There is only sorrow and crying on Christmas, her birthday," she said. She said Dunaway gave the family "a life sentence of grief."

Dunaway spoke to the family, saying if there was anything she could do to take back the family's pain, she would do it and she said she was very sorry.

Jeff Murray, Ling's husband, and Allan Andres, Calli's grandfather, said the family is trying to make texting while driving a felony offense. They said texting is more serious than driving under the influence because the driver's eyes are not on the road.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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