MONROE (AP) — When the water bottle fell to the floor of the car, Caitlin Hommerson went to pick it up and took her eyes off the street for two, maybe three, seconds. And then a life was lost.
It happened that quickly.
Now 18-year-old Hommerson of Monroe wants to be heard loud and clear: Distracted driving can and does kill.
“I’m trying to convey a message,” she told The Monroe Evening News “You can’t be distracted while driving.”
It was one year ago this month that Shelly Deaton was hit by Hommerson’s car and killed as she stood in her own driveway. She was watching her daughter, Desirae, walk toward the school bus in their quiet neighborhood. Hommerson was behind the wheel of that 1994 Dodge and lives around the corner from the Deatons. It was still dark that morning when Hommerson and her sister, Andi, headed to Monroe High School. Hommerson stopped at a stop sign and then turned the corner, causing the bottle to tumble to the floor. As she tried to retrieve it, she leaned and accidentally steered the car toward a mailbox.
The car crashed through the mailbox and Desirae watched as it headed straight for her mother. Hommerson looked up and saw Deaton.
“She was right there,” Hommerson said.
In the year since the accident, Hommerson was charged with a moving violation causing death, which carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail. She was represented by Monroe attorney William P. Godfroy and sentenced by First District Judge Mark S. Braunlich to six months of probation and fined more than $900.
While some wanted her to serve time in jail, Deaton’s father, Bill, comforted and forgave Hommerson when they saw each other in court.
“She was crying so hard in court I took her hand,” Deaton said. “My heart was torn out when I saw how hard she was taking it.”
Deaton said he has forgiven Hommerson and wishes her a long and healthy life. He said the sentence was fair.
“It was an honest accident; just a bad accident,” he said. “I have no grudge against her. I don’t hate her. I wish her the best in life.”
For the Hommerson family, Deaton’s forgiveness is a blessing.
“He’s giving me the OK to live on,” Hommerson said. “It means the whole world to me.”
“His forgiveness means everything to us,” said Hommerson’s mother, Pamela. “Now I know she’s going to be OK.”
The irony in the accident is that the girls’ parents hammered home the importance of driver safety. Hommerson wasn’t allowed to drive until she practiced a year more than required and was never allowed to have her cell phone with her, so texting was never an option while driving.
That extra caution was stressed in part because her dad, Del, is familiar with terrible accidents. In 2002 he was driving a truck in northern Michigan when a car cut in front of him. The other driver was killed.
“We really put forth our best effort,” Pamela Hommerson said. “And Shelly still died.”
The accident was tragic for both families. While the Deatons grieved their loss, the Hommersons worried about their daughters. Caitlin Hommerson believed she was going spend years in jail, while Andi, her passenger, witnessed everything. She even took Deaton’s pulse at the scene.
“This isn’t Caitlin’s accident,” Pamela Hommerson said. “This is our accident.”
Caitlin Hommerson’s license is suspended for a year and she still is seeing a counselor, but now that the court case is completed, she plans to speak to teenage drivers to let them know that any distraction, no matter how short, can lead to tragedy.
And as for Bill Deaton, he hopes Caitlin Hommerson’s words can prevent another tragedy. Although he lost a daughter, he still found forgiveness that will help another life move forward.
“I have faith in God,” Deaton said. “And my daughter is with Him now.”