According to Klamath County D.A. the driver who struck and killed a flagger on Highway 140 last summer was driving against a low sun angle and taking selfies with her phone just prior to the crash.
On June 18, 2019, Mr. Daniel Wessel, working for Rocky Mountain Construction as a flagger, was struck and killed by Ms. Zahra Gonzales who was driving through the construction zone. Ms. Zahra Gonzales pled guilty on January 31, 2020 to Manslaughter in the Second degree, with a stipulated sentence of 100 months in the Oregon Department of Correction. Seventy-five months of the sentence is (to be served pursuant to Ballot Measure 11), which means Ms. Gonzales is ineligible for any reduction of time. For the remaining 25-months Ms. Gonzales will be eligible for programs and good time. Upon her release, Ms. Gonzales will be subject to post-prison supervision for a period of twenty months. Additionally, Ms. Gonzales’ drivers license has been revoked for life.
This tragic crash was completely preventable. Ms. Gonzales was westbound on Highway 140, East of Klamath Falls. She entered the construction zone at a speed in excess of construction zone speeds. She had driven through this construction project multiple times that week. Ms. Gonzales estimated that her speed was at least 61 mph. Evidence showed that she was traveling directly into the setting sun. Witnesses stated that the glare made it incredibly difficult to see and required operators to travel at slow speeds, even without the construction zone. Additional evidence shows that Ms. Gonzales was taking multiple selfies while driving, documenting the glare of the sun and her distraction from the road. The final picture was taken a mere 44 seconds before the 911 call was received. Gonzales’ behavior showed reckless disregard to other people on the road.
The Klamath County District Attorney will prosecute individuals to the full extent of the law for injuries and deaths resulting from distracted driving. Driving is a very dangerous activity when not attended to appropriately. According to the Department of Transportation, deaths and serious physical injuries related to car accidents are on the rise. The causative factor is distracted driving … taking a selfie or texting, looking at the phone for directions or trying to pick up a phone call, watching shows or switching to a different pod cast or radio program.
Hands free devices should be installed. Phones should be turned off or responded to by safely pulling into an area where you do not impede traffic and answering the message or call.
Remember, you cannot bring back a life. Mr. Wessel left behind a family; Parents who should never have to bury a child, a wife and four beautiful children, who will not be able to fish, play baseball, or be walked down the aisle by their father, siblings who grieve daily for the brother with whom they laughed and joked, and countless friends and coworkers. A beautiful soul is gone. The tragedy lives on with all those who knew him.
No text or phone call is worth someone else’s life.