The Berry children from Houston testified before the Senate State Affairs committee on Thursday, telling lawmakers how they were orphaned by a driver who was sending text messages on his smart phone. A bill in the Texas State House would make texting while driving a Class C misdemeanor.
Aaron, Peter, and Willa Berry described the head-on collision that tore their family apart, leaving Peter and Aaron paralyzed and wheelchair-bound.
The Berry family was on its way home to Houston from a Colorado vacation in July of 2011 when a car veered out of its lane and slammed into the Berry’s vehicle.
Their mother, Robin Berry, was killed instantly. Their father, Josh Berry, died later in a hospital.
Willa’s injuries were much less severe, leaving her with several broken bones.
The children were not told of their parents’ death until after their spinal cord surgery, when medical personnel thought it was appropriate to deliver the devastating news.
The children are now living with their aunt and uncle, Simone and Matt Berry, and their cousins, Noah and Misha.
The 31-year-old driver who hit the family’s minivan, Michael Doyle of Phoenix, sustained serious injuries and was in critical condition after the accident. The passenger in his car, 28-year-old Colleen Doyle, was killed.
Numerous witnesses drove to the State Capitol to speak in favor a ban on texting while driving in Texas. Peace officers, victims of family members killed in accidents, and other groups offered supporting testimony. No one testified against the bill.
Only one person, an individual who did not represent any organization, testified against the measure previously, when hearings were held in the State House Transportation Committee. Law enforcement groups, cycling groups, Texas Medical Association, Texas Children’s Hospital and numerous other hospitals and health organizations, the City of Houston, insurance company representatives, and many more either addressed the legislature, or registered themselves present in support of the bill.
House Bill 80 enjoys bipartisan support. It was authored by Texas State House Representatives Tom Craddick (R-Midland), Bryon Cook (R-Corsicana), Eddie Lucio III (D-Harlingen), Patricia Harless (R-Houston), and Gene Wu (D-Houston), with 33 co-authors in the Texas State House.
The House Bill passed in on March 26, 2015. Testimony was heard before the Texas Senate’s State Affairs Committee on Thursday, May 7. The Senate bill is now pending in committee.
The penalties for texting while driving would include a fine of $25 to $99 for first-time offenders, and fines from $100 to $200 for repeat offenders.
The Bill Analysis of H.B. 80 states “While common sense and personal responsibility are major components in the effort to make Texas roads safer, interested parties contend that a statutory prohibition against the use of such [devices] would greatly improve the safety of Texas roads.”
The new bill is compared to the Texas seatbelt law, which also “criminalized risky behavior and provided an educational campaign to inform drivers about the risks associated with the behavior.”
Former Governor Rick Perry vetoed a bill that would ban texting while driving. Perry thought the issue should be dealt with by public education, rather than government regulation.
In a statement obtained from the Governor’s office, Breitbart Texas was told “Governor Abbott will consider any proposal passed through the Legislature with the goal of making Texas better.”
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2