Traffic death of Chandler mom yields new law - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Traffic death of Chandler mom yields new law

June 7th, 2018 development
Traffic death of Chandler mom yields new law

By Jim Walsh, San Tan news Staff


Pam’s Law stands as a tribute to a grieving mother’s persistence and her desire to right a wrong in the state’s traffic laws after discovering it in Chandler in the hardest way possible.

Jody Kieran of Peoria started pushing for tougher penalties for people who drive on suspended licenses after her daughter, Pamela Hesselbacher, 31, was struck and killed in Chandler by an alleged red-light runner who faced only a misdemeanor conviction.

Kieran, who usually rescues injured birds, found two powerful allies in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and state Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, a former prosecutor.

Their efforts eventually culminated in the passage of HB 2522, which makes it a felony, carrying a 3½-year sentence, to seriously injure or kill someone while driving on a suspended license.

A defendant’s license must be suspended because of failure to have proof of insurance after an arrest on driving under the influence charges. The new law takes effect on Aug. 3.

Kieran said the bill was drafted by former Mesa Mayor Peggy Rubach, her sister-in-law, but she also credits people who helped it survive the arduous legislative process.

She said Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, called her with the good news that Gov. Doug Ducey had signed Pam’s Law.

“I don’t know if I could have done it without her,’’ Kieran said, referring Rubach’s role. “It’s the first time we’ve collaborated on anything.’’

The loophole became apparent when Maricopa County Bill Montgomery declined to charge William Epperlein with causing the death of another because his license was suspended, not revoked, when he ran a red light before hitting Hesselbacher and her two young children. The children suffered serious injuries but survived.

“We finished up at the park. We are headed home now. We’ll see you in about 15 minutes,” Pamela Hesselbacher texted her husband, Matt, just minutes before her untimely death. “Love you.”

Pamela, 31, never made it home, even though she was only about 100 yards away. She was struck at Ponderosa and Ray roads in Chandler and pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

Matt Hesselbacher is raising the children, Ryan and Audrey, with the help of family members, but his wife’s death has left a gaping hole that never will be filled.

“It’s not for true accidents. It’s for people who routinely break the law,’’ Kieran said. “If you are court-mandated to have insurance, you can be charged with a felony.’’

Kieran said she was following the same advice she gave her daughter as a child by working to correct a problem after discovering an injustice existed after Hesselbacher’s death.

“It would have been very easy to climb into bed and never get up again,’’ Kieran said. “If there is a problem, you try to fix it. You don’t put your head down.’’

Although the tougher new law cannot be applied to any future prosecution of William Epperlein, the driver who struck Hesselbacher and her children on Nov. 12, 2016, Kieran said she finds solace in knowing that defendants who commit a crime with similar circumstances will face harsher penalties.

“This is for the people who are still alive,’’ Kieran said. “This is for my grandchildren and my family.’’

Epperlein was not charged with the typical crimes often associated with traffic deaths because he did not flee from the scene and waited for Chandler police to arrive. Officers also found no evidence that Epperlein was impaired.

Hoping that more evidence would emerge, Kieran asked Chandler prosecutors to drop Epperlein’s prosecution without prejudice, which means the same charges or additional charges could be filed later.

Kieran is still hoping that Epperlein eventually will be held accountable, even if it’s under the terms of the weaker law that Pam’s Law will replace.

If Epperlein is convicted on the misdemeanors, he would face up to six months in jail for driving with a suspended license. His driver’s license also could be suspended for 180 days on the charge of causing a serious injury.

Kieran said Epperlein was arrested four times on DUI allegations but charged with only one. She said a series of plea bargains to lesser charges allowed him to avoid jail or prison time and created the opportunity to hit her daughter.

Epperlein was required by a court to buy expensive high-risk insurance, but he let it lapse after one month and his license was suspended, she said.

“The driver had a suspended license for failure to maintain high-risk insurance. The driver was required to maintain high-risk insurance because he had a long history of driving violations, including several DUI charges. Despite his history, prosecutors could not file felony charges against the driver,’’ according to a press release from the state House of Representatives.

Syms said she was alarmed by the scenario and joined forces with Kieran and Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

“As a mother and a legislator, it’s frustrating to see a loophole in state law that allows a high-risk driver with a suspended license to kill a mother and seriously injure her children and get off with just a misdemeanor,” Syms said.

“Thanks to Pam’s Law, if you’re a high-risk driver that gets behind the wheel with a suspended license, you will be held accountable under the law,” she added.



File photos


Pam Hesselbacher’s death in a traffic mishap in 2016 left husband Matt Hesselbacher to raise son Ryan and daughter Audrey without their mother.