Don’t run him over.

Mary Stuiver could think of nothing else as she flagged down cars in the darkness on E.C. Row Expressway.

Don’t run him over.

She had just crested the Jefferson Boulevard overpass on her way to work the midnight shift at Fiat Chrysler when she was confronted with a wall of smoke. Seconds earlier, a dark sedan going a maniacal 190 kilometres per hour flew by in the passing lane.

“The car whizzed past me and I remember saying to myself, ‘That’s crazy fast.’”

That same black Infiniti G65x was now in the grassy median, facing the opposite direction it had been travelling. The front end looked like a crumpled soda can.

A body lay in the middle of the westbound lanes. As more cars came down the overpass, Stuiver had one frantic thought.

Don’t run him over.

The man had been on a motorcycle, but the first people on the scene didn’t know that. Neither his bike nor his helmet were anywhere near him.

The 22-year-old driver of the Infiniti had rammed the motorcycle from behind. He hadn’t seen the bike because he had been looking down at his phone. He was sending a text.

DJ Cassady pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death for the July 28, 2015 crash. He was sentenced to 3½ years in a federal penitentiary.

Calling distracted driving “the new impaired driving,” Regional Senior Justice Thomas Heeney said he needed to make an example of Cassady. “It is of particular importance to get this message out to our youth, to whom a smart phone has virtually become an additional appendage,” the judge said.

“Texting while driving has become a growing and pernicious problem on our roads. Despite public awareness campaigns advising of the dangers of texting while driving, despite police campaigns to crack down on the practice and despite steadily increasing fines for doing so, the practice continues apparently unabated.”

DJ Cassady

Texting while driving cost DJ Cassady his freedom and an innocent man his life, defence lawyer Andrew Bradie said. Cassady is shown leaving Superior Court on Sept. 27, 2016 in Windsor, Ont. Windsor Star

Cassady had been drinking and he was driving nearly double the 100 km/h speed limit, but texting made it the “trifecta of things you should not do while behind the wheel,” Heeney said.

“At that speed, the Infiniti was a virtual missile,” the judge said. “Yet the accused chose that moment … to take his eyes and mind off the road and compose a text message. At that point, the missile was effectively out of anyone’s control. Such an act is reckless behaviour in the extreme and displays a wanton disregard for the safety of others on the road.”

Court heard Cassady had hoped of becoming a police officer like his father and his grandfather before him. The criminal conviction ended that dream.

Cassady had shared with the judge slides of a talk he proposed giving to local students to warn them of the dangers of distracted driving. His lawyer urged the judge to make speaking engagements a term of probation in exchange for a lighter jail sentence. But Heeney said if Cassady was serious about warning young drivers, he could do it regardless of a court order.

Cassady, through messages left with his lawyer, declined to be interviewed for this story.

The man on the motorcycle Cassady killed was Donald Russell, a truck driver with a reputation for road safety.

His co-workers spoke of their respect for Russell and the irony of how he died.

Russell was returning from work the night he was killed. He was headed home to Amherstburg where he was the primary caregiver to his wife of 40 years who was beset with health troubles. He was 66 and never lived to see retirement.

In court, Russell’s widow, Andrea, spoke of her profound loss. Her children, Ian and Scott, shared their fears that their mother will die of a broken heart.

According to autopsy results, Russell suffered 13 separate injuries, six of which were individually catastrophic enough to result in death. His skull had multiple fractures, his aorta was severed, his spinal cord was transected, vertebrae were severed and his heart was ruptured.

The image of Russell’s mangled body is burned in Dr. Kamal Abu-Rashed’s memory.

It was nearly 11 p.m. and the local physician was returning from an evening visit with his parents when he saw a woman on E.C. Row Expressway waving her arms madly.

Abu-Rashed, an internal medicine specialist, stopped to help. A man lay on the pavement, his legs twisted and bent at impossible angles.

“He was dead,” Abu-Rashed recalled. “Just from the legs I could tell. It was obvious he was dead.”

Dr. Kamal Abu-Rashed, seen in this Nov. 24, 2016 photo, would like to bring awareness about the deadly consequences of distracted driving. Nick Brancaccio / Windsor Star

Dr. Kamal Abu-Rashed, seen in this Nov. 24, 2016 photo, would like to bring awareness about the deadly consequences of distracted driving. Nick Brancaccio / Windsor Star

Still, Abu-Rashed did CPR for 15 minutes. A nurse driving by offered to take over. So did the first police officer at the scene. But Abu-Rashed continued.

Knowing now that the man died at the inattentive hands of a texting driver makes Abu-Rashed shake his head.

“I see people looking down all the time,” he said of the prevalence of texting drivers. “It takes less than a second for something to happen…. There needs to be more awareness.”

On any given day in Windsor’s Westcourt Building, where provincial offences are prosecuted in the region, there are people being fined for texting or holding their phones to their ears while driving.

The minimum fine under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act for using a hand-held device while driving is $300 and three demerit points.

So far this year, Windsor police have caught 1,406 drivers holding a cellphone while driving. At the going rate, the 2016 numbers will surpass last year’s total charges.

People seem unable to resist the urge to look at their phones when driving, said Const. Andrew Drouillard. “It’s such an addictive thing.”

A deterrent, he suggested, is to put your cellphone in the glovebox. “You have to reduce the temptation.”

Defence lawyer Andrew Bradie spoke on the courthouse steps as Cassady was led away to begin serving his prison sentence. Texting while driving cost Cassady his freedom and an innocent man his life, Bradie said.

“It’s dangerous. That message needs to get out but I have no confidence that it will. People seem to be ignoring the warning signs,” he said.

But the E.C. Row Expressway crash should serve as a wake-up call, he said. “This will be a horrible nightmare for everybody for a long time.”

Source: Windsor Star