19-year-old Kyle Rowley ran out of gas on his way home from work around 10:30 at night on May 16th 2011. He put on his flashers and was pushing his car to the side of the road when another driver, at full speed-never braking, crashed into him. He was killed instantly.
Meryl and Carl Rowley got that stomach dropping 4:30 a.m. knock on the door from police. "There's a part of me that's gone. There's a part of me that's... I remember one time I said, 'There's no way I'll ever be as happy as I could be again,'" said Carl.
The crash happened on Route 7 in northern Virginia. Kyle was less than a mile from reaching home. "I still find it hard to believe that he's not here," said Meryl.
He died on a well-lit straightaway. Other cars passed him with no problem. Police later determined, through phone records, the other driver had been texting and opened a text message at the moment of the crash.
"This is vehicular manslaughter. You kill someone because you're not looking," says Carl.
The 39 year old was charged with reckless driving but when his case went to trial, Fairfax County Judge Thomas Gallahue dropped the charge- placing the blame on the General Assembly. Gallahue told the man, "I think you drove recklessly, but the legislature has said texting is something way less than that." He was referring to a 2009 Virginia law that made texting while driving a minor traffic infraction, punishable by just 20 dollars.
"If you're texting, the way it's written it's secondary offense so you really can't pull someone over. If it causes an accident it's meaningless," said Carl.
The family believes the legislature unintentionally trivialized texting and driving with its current law.
"You can equate it to being under the influence of alcohol. It's impaired driving, you don't have your full sense if ;you're not watching the road and watching what's going on around you," said Meryl.
Kyle played the piano, soccer and he loved to ski and snowboard. He had just wrapped up his freshman year in college and was home for less than a week.
"Initially I couldn't look at his pictures right away. And it just -- it just was too much. But I kept looking until it became a positive experience again," said Carl.
The family believes changing the law allows Kyle to leave a lasting legacy out of this tragedy.
"It won't bring Kyle back but it if prevents other people from doing hazardous behaviors while they're driving than it means a lot to me," said Meryl.
The General Assembly meets on Wednesday. Delegate Ben Cline (R-24) and Delegate Scott Surovell (D-44) introduced House Bill 1360 to ban driving while simultaneously using a handheld device for something other than verbal communication. If passed the measure would make it reckless driving- a Class 1 misdemeanor which carries up to a $2500 dollar fine and up to one year in jail.