Bend installs 'Don't Text' sign in honor of teen crash victim

Texting driver killed Forrest Cepeda, 16, in 2011

BEND, Ore. - The city of Bend on Friday installed a memorial sign with a message -- 'Don't Text and Drive' -- on Southeast Reed Market Road near Pettigrew Road, in the area where 16-year-old Forrest Cepeda was struck and killed by a texting driver in 2011.

The city said it installed the sign "to honor Cepeda’s memory and to help discourage distracted driving."  

“People need to know how serious this issue is. Distracted driving is a known leading cause of crashes,” said Bend police Sergeant Eric Hagan. “It’s a really widespread problem. The police department averages more than 500 cell phone tickets and warnings a year now.”

Distracted driving traffic crashes can result in property damage, personal injuries and death. Distracted driving has a direct impact on reaction time, which leads to the increase in traffic crashes. Studies have suggested using cell phones while driving can be as dangerous as driving under the influence of intoxicants.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2015:

· 3,477 people were killed by distracted driving

· 391,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted driving

· 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving

Oregon’s new districted driving law, which went into effect last October, toughened rules and fines associated with operating a vehicle while using a mobile electronic device, and includes potential jail time for repeat offenders. Generally, ORS 881.507 says it’s illegal to drive while holding or using a mobile electronic device.

City Manager Eric King, acting as the city's road authority, granted an exemption to the city’s standards for roadside memorials to allow the Bend Streets and Operations Department to install an educational sign about texting and driving, in memory of Forrest Cepeda.

The driver, Erik Conn, now 35, of La Pine, was sentenced in 2012 to more than two years in prison for the fatal crash, which occurred while he was texting his girlfriend, who was sitting beside him. He pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in a deal to avoid a manslaughter charge.

Conn's driver's license also was permanently revoked, but on Jan. 2, he pleaded guilty to driving with revoked license last Aug. 31. He is scheduled for sentencing March 6, and the plea deal statement indicates the state is likely to seek a 15-month prison sentence, while the defense may request two years probation instead.

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