A 16-year-old girl has been charged with manslaughter, assault and texting while driving in connection with a September 2011 fatality collision. It's a moment the young driver can never take back, and one prosecutors said could have been avoided if she'd just put down her phone.
According to the Platte County prosecutor, Rachel N. Gannon, of Kansas City, was allegedly texting on her cell phone when she lost control of her vehicle and collided with a car driven by Loretta J. Larimer, 72, who was killed in the crash.
Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd said Gannon was charged April 19, after having been certified to stand trial as an adult on April 16.
According to court documents, Gannon was traveling north on NW Skyview Road on Sept. 26, 2011 at approximately 3 p.m. when she struck Larimer's vehicle near Interstate 435.
Gannon was allegedly looking at her cell phone and texting when she ran off the side of the road. When Gannon returned her vehicle to the road, she struck a car heading in the opposite direction.
Larimer was extricated from her car and taken to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. Her 10-year-old granddaughter was riding in the back seat of Larimer's car and suffered injuries which were not life-threatening.
"Enough lives have been shattered and ruined, and I certainly don't want to ruin this young person's life, but we want to know what happened," said John Larimer, the victim's son.
The victim's family hopes answers will finally come in Gannon's trial.
Gannon is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the second-degree, third-degree assault and texting while driving. If convicted of the manslaughter charge, Gannon faces up to four years in prison. She faces up to one year in jail on the assault charge and a $200 fine if convicted of texting while driving.
Under Missouri law, texting while driving is only a crime for drivers under age 21. Zahnd said he believed the Missouri legislature should prohibit texting while driving for all drivers, regardless of age.
"Texting while driving is at least as dangerous as drinking and driving. We make a crime of that for anybody, no matter the age," Zahnd said. "It should also be a crime for anybody to text while driving."
Gannon posted a $5,000 bond and surrendered her driver's license as a condition of bond. Her first court date has not been set.
The teen will be tried as an adult, based on the severity of the crime and how soon she'll come of age.
That's a decision the victim's son isn't so sure about, focusing instead on recovering from the loss of a mother, grandmother and center of a large family.
"It's better each day, but we still cannot believe this happened," John Larimer said. "We can't believe she's gone."
The charges against Gannon are merely accusations, and Gannon is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The victim's son said his niece, the 10-year-old girl injured in the crash, is recovering and doing well. He suggests having Gannon travel around to high schools in the metro area and talk to kids about the dangers of texting and driving. He believes that's a good way to hold her accountable and spread awareness among young drivers - something he said is most important.
Instead, the teen could face up to four years in state prison if convicted of the involuntary manslaughter charge.
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