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PD Editorial: A horrifying accident on too many levels

  • (Jennifer Kohnke / Tribune Media Services)

We wish we could say the tragic double fatal accident that occurred in the eastbound lanes of Highway 12 Saturday evening was hard to understand. But it's not. Based on what authorities are saying, we've been here before. Too many times.

Authorities say the driver of a speeding pickup that crashed into the back of a Toyota Camry killing two Santa Rosa woman is suspected of being under the influence of marijuana and using his cellphone at the time of the accident.

The suspect, 30-year-old Nicholas Lee Tognozzi of Rohnert Park, told officers that he looked down at his phone to read a text just prior to smashing into the back of the Camry that was waiting for the light to change at Farmers Lane.

The crash claimed the lives of 74-year-old Sharon Hufford and 53-year-old Sue Hufford, both Santa Rosa residents. Donald Hufford, 74, also was severely injured. He remained at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital as of late Monday.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Tognozzi was tested for sobriety and was found to be under the influence of marijuana. He was arrested on suspicion of felony gross vehicular manslaughter and felony driving while under the influence of drugs causing death.

And now the families of those lost and the community as a whole are left with the wreckage. The loss is heartbreaking.

The family members reportedly were all heading for the Villa restaurant off Montgomery Drive to celebrate the birthday of Sue Hufford, a music teacher in the Mark West Union School District. It was a familiar outing.

The dangers of the intersection of Highway 12 at Farmers Lane are also too familiar. Vehicles at the tailend of these backups are sitting ducks to anyone who comes up behind them and is not paying attention.

We recognize that the investigation is not complete, and the suspect in this case deserves his day in court.

But if the allegations prove true, it's more horrific testimony to the dangers of driving while intoxicated and/or the dangers of driving while paying attention to a cellphone. It's more testimony we don't need.

When is this message going to sink in?

Columbia University researchers recently reported that fatal crashes involving marijuana use have tripled during the past decade. Overall, drugged driving accounted for roughly 28 percent of traffic deaths in 2010, up from 16 percent in 1999.

Meanwhile, some 6,000 people are killed on U.S. roadways and hundreds of thousands are injured each year in accidents involving distracted driving including those who were looking at their cell phone.

Sonoma County doesn't need more examples of why these are deadly habits. What it needs is wider resolve that there won't be more.

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