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Family pushes for new law after Chandler mother's death

Posted at 7:08 PM, Feb 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-14 06:44:35-05

More than one year after a Chandler mother was killed while crossing the street, her day of justice may be coming.

Not in a courtroom as the family of Pamela Hesselbacher had hoped, but in the state legislature.

Hesselbacher and her two children were heading from a park in Chandler, near Ray and College streets, when they were a hit by a driver who told police that he did not see the red light.

Hesselbacher was killed, her two children severely injured.

Jody Kieran, Hesselbacher's mother, said they were angry and surprised to learn the driver, William Epperlein, had a long rap sheet that consisted of multiple traffic violations including DUI's, Failure to Yield, and Excessive Speeding. Records show he was also driving on a suspended license.

Kieran said she really thought this would hurt him, as they proceeded to court.

To everyone's surprise, and the family's horror, the county attorneys office announced they would not prosecute the case, and sent it back to city court, for misdemeanor charges.  

Kieran said she this was like pouring salt on their wounds, as the man accused of leading to their daughter's death and grandchildren's injuries would walk away with virtually no jail time, and a slap on the wrist.

Last April, Kieran told ABC15 they had put all their hopes in the justice system. Now they have learned a legal loophole in the law is the reason the county attorney declined to prosecute the case.

Arizona State Representative Maria Syms, (R) explained the legal technicality.

"In this case, the technicality was the person was driving and did not provide the required insurance, proof of insurance," said Syms. 

Syms explained that even though Epperlein had a suspended license, it was not revoked.   

Epperlein's driver's license would have been revoked for a DUI but re-instated once he agreed to all the court instructions, now of which is to get high-risk insurance or SR-22.

In this case, Epperlein allegedly did not purchase the high-risk insurance, thus his license was suspended, not revoked.

While this may sound like a small technicality in terms of the law, the language here makes a big difference in terms of being charged with a felony versus a misdemeanor.

The Kieran's now hoped "Pam's law" would close that legal loophole.

Syms, who is also a former Assistant Attorney General, said Pamela's story really touched her.

"I think the thing that resonated with me most is that she was a young mother just taking her children home from a park like many of us do. As a mother of three myself and a lawmaker, these are the stories that keep me up at night," said Syms.

House Bill 2522 would amend the traffic violations to close this legal loophole and hold repeat offenders who caused an accident leading to death or severe injuries accountable for their actions.

"We are not going to close that loophole. We may not get immediate justice for the Hesselbacher family but we can certainly make sure people like this are held accountable in the future" said Syms.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing at the Arizona House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon.