STOCKTON — Many of us spend our lives in a hurry. Rushing to work or to school, and using our cell phones to get us there.
Maria Coyner of Stockton was no exception.
“I had a job, a home, a boyfriend, a car,” Maria told FOX40. “There was nothing in my world at the time that could go wrong.”
At just 23 years old, Maria’s whole life was ahead of her — until a crash changed everything.
“This is something that I think about every morning, and every night,” said Maria.
November 11, 2012 was a moonless night in Nipomo, on California’s Central Coast. Maria had moved to the San Luis Obispo area for school. That night, she was driving home, when she got a text message. It was from her boyfriend, asking if she was off work yet.
“And I looked down at my phone, and I looked up, and there was almost like, a blur,” said Maria. “A blur I couldn’t even make out. It was in front of my car.”
A sudden impact. Maria pulled over, got out of her car, and looked around. But in the dark, she didn’t see anything.
“I tried to figure out in my mind what had happened. When it came down to it, I thought I just hit a pole of some sort,” said Maria.
So she took off, and drove home.
“Two days after the crash, the police came,” Maria told FOX40.
They came to arrest her. Maria didn’t hit a pole. She hit 24-year-old Christopher Tietjen, man with special needs who had been walking on the shoulder of the road. He was killed by the impact.
“Instead of feeling, my body did the complete opposite,” said Maria. “To where I couldn’t feel or think anymore. I turned completely into a zombie.”
Maria pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter, with a felony enhancement of hit-and-run. She served 90 days in prison.
“I had several people tell me I was a murderer. I deserved to do more time. I deserved not to be there. And everything that they had said, every single one of those thoughts had crossed my own mind myself,” said Maria.
After serving her time, Maria moved back to Stockton. She now volunteers with Impact Teen Drivers, speaking out in classrooms across California, warning students not to make the same mistake she did. She knows her purpose is to spread the word about the dangers of distracted driving.
“Events like this happen all the time. And just because it hasn’t happened to you yet doesn’t mean that it won’t, or that it can’t,” said Maria.
Her warning- never, ever take your eyes off the road. Not for a call, not for a text. There is nothing on your phone more important than your own life… or the life of someone else.
“It takes half a second for something to completely change your life,” said Maria. “Why would you want to risk it?”