ELIZABETH, N.J. (CBS 2) – It’s already against the law to drive and talk on a handheld phone in New Jersey, but a proposed law would make the penalties much harsher.
CBS 2’s Christine Sloan spoke to the daughter of a woman whose tragic death inspired the proposed change.
Helen Kulesh’s name is on a sign that sits on an Elizabeth street corner, with flowers wrapped around the pole. The makeshift memorial marks the site where 89-year-old Kulesh was killed five years ago, struck down, her daughter said, by a distracted driver on a cell phone.
“In the crosswalk, she had the light in her favor, and she was more than halfway across the street,” daughter Joyce Vence said.
Vence said the loss of her mother – who she said was her best friend – has been overwhelming.
“It’s just not easy. You can have a bad day and a good moment, or you could have just one moment of memory,” Vence said.
Vence is trying to turn the tragedy into something positive. If a New Jersey bill named after her mother and another couple becomes law, a driver who injures or kills someone while talking on a cell phone could face vehicular homicide charges, just like a drunk driver would.
“You can’t bring your loved one back, but an offender cannot just kill someone with no penalty,” Vence said. “It’s not fair.”
Vence said the driver who killed her mother spent a day in jail after pleading guilty to careless driving and failing to yield to a pedestrian.
Vence said the driver made a left turn onto Grove Street and was actually driving into the wrong lane when she struck Kulesh.
Tougher laws, Vence said, will hopefully make drivers think twice.
“You are behind the wheel of a 3,000-pound or so vehicle,” she said. “Keep your eyes focused on the road. The call can wait.”
Vence has her mother’s picture in the front window of her home, along with a message for drivers: “On the cell phone? Don’t be a distracted driver! Brake for pedestrians!”
It’s her mission, she said, to make sure what happened to her mother doesn’t happen to someone else. The bill, named the “Kulesh and Kuberts Law,” has been sitting in an Assembly committee since June, but it will now be heard in March.