Just a few blocks from where Ashley McIntosh was fatally injured by a Fairfax County police car in 2008, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell signed a bill Tuesday that will require emergency responders to use their flashing lights and sirens when entering an intersection against a red light or else yield to traffic.
The signing ceremony at the Sherwood Hall Regional Library in the Mount Vernon area, where McDonnell (R) grew up, was a crowning achievement for McIntosh’s mother, Cindy Colasanto of Alexandria. After her daughter died, Colasanto, who had no political experience, launched a campaign in Richmond to change the law for police and fire vehicles. She called it “Ashley’s Law.”
A family friend connected Colasanto with the McGuire Woods Consulting group in Richmond, which guided her lobbying efforts. State Sen. Linda T. “Toddy” Puller (D-Fairfax) and Dels. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) and David L. Englin (D-Fairfax) carried the legislation through the General Assembly.
And when former state police superintendent W. Gerald Massengill threw his support behind the bill, the legislature began to fall in line. “Ashley’s Law” passed both houses by a combined vote of 137 to 1.
“I think this bill strikes the balance,” McDonnell said before the signing. “In requiring emergency personnel to have their lights flashing and to have a horn or siren, or to yield the right of way . . . maybe it’ll take a couple seconds longer, but it’ll make sure the officer or firefighter gets to the scene safely.”
On an icy evening, Feb. 12, 2008, McIntosh, 33, was in her Toyota Corolla at the stop light at Boswell Road and Route 1, coming out of the Mount Vernon Plaza Shopping Center. Officer Amanda Perry was in her police cruiser, heading north on Route 1 to a reported assault in progress, though it turned out to be the apprehension of a shoplifter.
When McIntosh’s light turned green, she proceeded across Boswell Road. Perry’s cruiser entered the intersection without braking, an in-car video showed, and slammed broadside into the Corolla at about 40 mph. Perry’s overhead lights were flashing, but her siren was off. McIntosh was not wearing a seat belt, and she was ejected from her spinning car. She died the next day. Perry was not seriously injured.
Here is the in-car video:
Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh charged Perry with reckless driving, but at trial she was found not guilty. In a civil suit against Perry, a Fairfax judge in 2009 found the officer was not entitled to immunity because her actions were negligent. Fairfax then settled the case and paid McIntosh’s family $1.5 million. Perry later resigned from the department after being accused of falsifying her timecards.
Throughout the court proceedings in Fairfax, Colasanto pushed for a new law in Richmond. In 2009, the bill written by Puller was shifted to the transportation committee and met full opposition from police and sheriff’s groups. Last year, the bill was sent to the state Crime Commission for study, and this year, Massengill supported it and the opposing parties worked out a compromise, Albo said.
Colasanto wanted police to yield at all intersections at which they had a red light. Police wanted the ability to drive through intersections without necessarily alerting suspects of their approach by using a siren.
But police acknowledged that their regulations required them to proceed cautiously, or yield, at red lights, and Albo said the law codified what the police were training themselves to do.
“I have always been deeply saddened by Ashley’s death,” Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer said at the bill signing. “I truly admire and respect Mrs. Colasanto’s commitment to positive change to enhance safety for all.”
Fairfax police said they had produced a training video on the change in the law and ensured all officers were trained.
“The past 3 1 / 2 years have been a long and exhausting process,” Colasanto said. She thanked the legislators and lobbyists, who worked for free, and the packed meeting room, which included dozens of her daughter’s friends and co-workers. McIntosh was a kindergarten teacher’s assistant at Clermont Elementary School.
“She loved to help others,” Colasanto said of her daughter, “and she would be proud of our accomplishment in her memory. Ashley’s Law will save lives.”