By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The drive from Tazewell to Richmond, Va., is long, with traditionally heavy traffic on I-81 in the Valley of the Virginias, frequent fog atop Afton Mountain and frequent gridlock on I-64 appearing anywhere from Short Pump to the capitol.
Julie Fox, mother of the late Virginia State Trooper Andrew Fox, has made that trip several times during the 2014 session of the Virginia General Assembly. She made it again Sunday night. All of the trips she has made in recent months have been to share her thoughts on SB 293 — a bill that seeks to increase the penalty for reckless driving causing the death of a law enforcement officer, emergency responder, firefighter or highway department employee whose work causes him or her to be out on the highway.
“The committee meeting today is scheduled one-half hour after the end of the session (today),” Fox said. “This is in the Criminal Law subcommittee of the Courts of Justice committee, which is scheduled to meet at the same place and at the same time,” she said. “I don’t know if it means that the entire committee will be meeting at that time or not.”
When Julie Fox, her daughter Lauren, daughter-in-law Virginia Fox, and other family members approached State Senator Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell, a few weeks before the start of the session and asked him to patron the bill that would become SB 293, the Fox family thought it would be a relatively simple thing. The tragedy of Oct. 5, 2012, when Trooper Fox was run over and killed by a distracted driver — Angelicia Christine Valencia, 27 — who ran over Trooper Fox with her 1992 Jeep Cherokee, was only compounded and magnified when Valencia pleaded “no contest” to reckless driving causing death, received a 12-month suspended sentence and a $1,000 fine.
From day one, Senator Puckett warned the Fox family not to get their hopes up about the bill. The ongoing political acrimony in Richmond hasn’t led to sincere bipartisan cooperation on many issues, and while Puckett said he believed in the change in the law that would make reckless driving causing death for police, paramedics, VDOT workers and other emergency responders a Class VI felony, he wasn’t overly optimistic about its chances of clearing either the Senate judiciary of finance committees.
Against all odds, SB 293 passed both Senate committees on unanimous votes and sailed through the full senate with a 40-0 vote.
“I definitely pray about it every day and I hope people see it as a deterrent to those who drive recklessly around where emergency and highway department personnel are working,” Julie Fox said. “When it was in the Senate, Senator Puckett tried to prepare us by saying it would go no where. (Today) we will go before the House Criminal Law subcommittee.”
She didn’t share in advance what she thought she would say to the subcommittee members, but said she has been thinking about it. She said that she will attend a meeting with the Fire and EMS Caucus this evening.
Her son, Andrew, was 27 when he died in the line of duty. His father, David Fox, serves as an officer with the Richlands, Va., Police Department. Andrew Fox worked for the town of Tazewell Police Department prior to entering the Virginia State Police Academy. He served as a trooper from 2006-2012.
— Contact Bill Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org