On June 17, 2016, recent Horizon High School graduate Joe Smith and three of his high school friends were driving back from a post-graduation trip to California. Upon nearing Quartzsite, Arizona on Interstate 10, the boys slowed down due to an accident, when an 18-wheeler barreled into them and another vehicle.
As a result of the impact, 18-year-old Joe was killed and the three other boys in his vehicle were seriously injured. In the other vehicle, 74-year-old Sun City resident Joseph Garcia was killed, and his wife Mary Lou was left paralyzed from the waist down.
Seven months later, and the truck driver has not been charged with any crime. As it stands currently, Arizona law does not require that drivers in deadly accidents be given a drug or alcohol test. Steve and Tana Smith, Joe’s parents, are on a mission to change that.
The Smith’s are lobbying a new bill in the Senate that would change the law in his name. SB 1054, known as “Joe’s Law” would require drug or alcohol testing for driver’s involved in crashes that cause serious injury or death.
According to records obtained from a Department of Public Safety trooper, the 42-year-old semi-truck driver seemed lethargic and tired after the accident, and when asked if he was tired, he responded “yes.” However, he was not tested for drugs or alcohol.
“If this bill passes, ‘Joe’s Law’ would help ensure that families who endure a tragedy like ours won’t have the added stress of forever wondering and never knowing if there were more factors that caused the crash, “ Tana Smith wrote in a post on Facebook.
The bill’s primary sponsor is Senator Judy Burges, and the co-sponsors are Senator Sylvia Allen, Senator David Farnsworth, Senator Steve Montenegro, and Senator Frank Pratt.
While not an official bill sponsor, Senator Lupe Contreras spoke emotionally in support of Joe’s Law. He lost his sister in a car accident when she was just 18 years old, as well.
“I know what that pain is cause here I am today and I’m able to sit up there and hopefully pass this law that will hopefully prevent another family from having to endure what we have endured for so many years,” Contreras said.
On January 26th, a Senate Panel approved SB 1054 on a 7 to 0 vote. The law will now move to the full Senate for action.
According to Joe’s dad, Steve, simply knowing whether the driver had been impaired would make the death of their son easier to manage.
“Had we known whether or not this driver was impaired, it would make this unbearable situation easier to cope with. The not knowing, because no test was done in our case, is agonizing,” Steve said.
A petition on Change.org has garnered more than 2,000 signatures in support of having the law passed, and will be delivered to Senator John McCain.
Tana believes that many individuals are unaware that the Arizona law does not require drug and alcohol testing after a deadly accident, and hopes that Joe’s Law will bring the flawed law to light, and ultimately change it.
“I’ll do whatever I can do to change this because this is something that can affect anybody at any time,” Tana said.
This will be an interesting story for the Arizona collision industry, as well as all Arizona residents, to follow in the coming months.