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Labor Day crash shines spotlight on distracted driving

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Woman escapes with minor injuries

This past Labor Day weekend could have ended tragically for one motorcyclist. Francisca Wright’s ride down eastbound Highway 66, ended abruptly when a car darted out in front of her, near the UPS Store, 2418 Hwy 66, at about 5:15 pm on Sept. 3.

Wright rammed into the silver-colored sedan as the driver attempted to cross the road to turn left. The driver apparently did not see or yield to Wright, and she struck the driver’s side door.

Witnesses said Wright’s husband, who was riding next to her, stopped immediately, dropped his bike, and ran to her aid. When police arrived a few minutes later, Wright was writhing in pain, and frightened from the ordeal.

Wright is a member of the motorcycle group “Endless Riders,” and shortly after the emergency responders showed up, several members from the group also arrived to provide support for their “family,” allowing Wright’s husband the ability to drop everything and focus on his wife’s wellbeing.

Gallup Police Department spokesperson Capt. Marinda Spencer said that Wright was later released from a local hospital with “minor injuries.”

In addition to Wright’s accident, it was a bad month for motorcycle riders in McKinley County in general, and Jim Smith of the Gallup-based Western New Mexico Motorcyclists Rights Organization, keeps up on this sort of news.

“We have already had four accidents in the last month in McKinley County, which is a lot for just one month,” he said.

It wasn’t just a bad month though –  the month was part of an overall bad year in the state of New Mexico.

Raymond Gallegos of the Albuquerque-based New Mexico Motorcyclists Rights Organization, said that according to the statistics, he said “there have been 213 crashes year-to-date, which is 56 more then all of 2016. There have also been 32 fatalities, which is one less than all 2016.”

A common theme with many of these crashes is distracted driving. According to a 2015 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 14 to 18 percent of all crashes involve distracted driving, which includes texting. There were over 391,000 distracted-driving crashes in 2015, and almost 3,500 deaths.

One of those deaths was Michael Jakino of Farmington, N.M., father of 2016 Miss New Mexico Summer Jakino-Whistle. On the bike riding with him was Jacinko-Whistle’s mother, Robin Jakino, who was severely injured. This Labor Day weekend marked the two-year anniversary of the accident.

On Sept. 6, 2015, Michael and Robin Jakino were on U.S. Route 550, north of Durango, when a pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction crossed over the center line and hit them head on.

Michael Jakino was pronounced dead on the scene, and Robin Jakino had to have a significant portion of her leg amputated. Robin Jakino is still dealing with the physical trauma now two years later, having several surgeries to repair damage from infections.

“Her leg is now amputated up to near the hip, which makes getting a prosthetic difficult because there is nothing left to attach it to,” Jakino-Whistle said.

Jakino-Whistle describes her father as “an amazing man.” He was chairman of the board for San Juan Regional Medical Center, and he worked extensively with underprivileged youth.

“Daddy was also the head of the Kiwanis Club,” she said, adding that he “was very popular with the community.”

One of the men Michael Jakino counted among his friends was Sen. Steven Neville, R-San Juan.

After the tragic death of her father, Jakino-Whistle partnered with Neville to introduce Senate Bill 55, which would increase fines for the first offense for careless driving from $25 to $100, and fines for subsequent infractions would cost wayward drivers $500-$1,000.

Neville said that this “would put careless driving at least on par with speeding tickets.”

He went on to say that while the penalty for careless driving currently does not carry any penalty of points on a driver’s license, and getting the fines more in line with speeding tickets would help facilitate the conversation of applying points and “that could be a real deterrent for many drivers,”and would penalize those who do not pay attention.

“The more offensive it is to the offender, the better,” Jakino-Whistle said.

Neville said that the bill made it all the way through the Senate, but it ran out of time before the 60-day legislative session ended.

When asked if he would be introducing the bill next session, Neville said that it would “be challenging,” as every other session is a shorter 30-day session, and topics are supposed to be confined to budget matters.


While it’s not immediately clear what caused the driver to hit Wright, texting and talking on cellphones keeps making news headline in the form of tragic accidents.

Cities such as Gallup, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe have bans on texting/talking and driving, but there’s no state-wide ban, with one exception – novice drivers. Or those who are younger than 18, or drivers holding a learner’s permit or a provisional license. They are prohibited from using hand held devices while driving.

According to DMV.com, “New Mexico is one of the states with the most lenient distracted driving laws, and has no statewide text messaging ban for all drivers,” a ban that has been enacted in many other states.”

In addition to the leniency in the current distracted driving laws, another issue is the accuracy of witness statements on exactly what happened when a motorcycle vs. car accident occurs. Gallegos said that often bystanders “associate noise with speed,” and that when it comes time to give a statement the recollection of a loud motorcycle, it may color their memory of events.

According to Huffington Post, 98 percent of adults know that distracted driving is “unsafe.” It’s even enough for CNBC to declare that “texting and driving is worse than drinking and driving.”

Despite the claims and data, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 31 percent of people admit to having sent/read text messages in the last 30 days while driving, and according to a Virginia Tech study, this takes drivers eyes of the road for 4.6 seconds.

At a speed of 60 miles an hour, a driver would cover 134 yards in that time. To put that in context, the longest play in NFL history is 109 yards. So, in the space of one text, a driver would travel farther than anyone in the NFL’s 97-year history.

While distracted driving is an issue for drivers, it is particularly important for a motorcyclist.

A NTHSA study found that in all motorcycle accidents occurring between motorcyclists and cars, the motorcyclist was either not at fault or less at fault than the other driver 80 percent of the time. Furthermore, the federal government estimates that per mile traveled in 2014, the number of deaths on motorcycles was over 27 times the number in cars.

Despite this danger, Gallegos said, “We love to ride, it is a sense of freedom”

By Jonathan Gregg
Sun Correspondent