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Crash Kills Driver Dialing Cell Phone

Safety: Victim collides with a pickup truck after running a red light. State bill would ban such use.

July 21, 2001|DAN WEIKEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A driver apparently dialing his cell phone was killed Friday when he ran a red light and crashed into the back of a pickup truck in Mission Viejo, authorities said.

Police found a hand-held cell phone on the driver's side floorboard of the wrecked Mustang. A number was in the display field, but the send button hadn't been pushed, investigators said.

"It was a horrific crash," said Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department. "The Mustang was demolished, and the rear axle of the pickup was completely torn out."

Cell phones are believed to contribute to hundreds of deadly traffic accidents across the nation every year, prompting at least 20 states to consider outlawing their use by drivers. Last month, New York became the first to do so.

The victim was identified as Alexander Abaoag, 43, a respiratory therapist from Mission Viejo who was driving home from his job at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood.

Amormino said the driver of the pickup was an 18-year-old construction worker from Ontario. He was not hurt, although the truck spun around several times.

Government and academic studies indicate that as many as 600 people die every year across the country in traffic accidents related to the use of hand-held cell phones.

In California, a pending bill would allow drivers to use cell phones in traffic only in an emergency or if the phones are not hand-held, such as voice-activated systems with headsets.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), is before the Assembly Transportation Committee, which may take action on the legislation early next year.

"How many more deaths like this does it take before people do something?" Simitian asked Friday. "Almost two dozen studies show there is a danger. . . . We know there is an inherent risk in using a cellular telephone while you drive."

Simitian's bill would impose a $20 fine for the first offense and a $50 fine for subsequent violations.

The law, which is strongly opposed by most cell phone companies, would take effect in 2005.

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