Injured Manassas officer inspires distracted-driving campaign

July 31, 2013

On July 13, Manassas police Officer Heather Munsterman pulled over a car on Route 28 near Phoenix Drive for a traffic infraction. When she walked away from the car, a passing driver, who police say wasn’t paying attention, struck her.

Munsterman’s resulting injuries — a broken pelvis and ankle, dislocated shoulder and a concussion, among others — have left her in pain and on a long road to recovery, police say. Now supporters are trying to bring attention to distracted driving and raise money for the officer’s recovery.

Police say that Alexander M. Bacon, 25, of Herndon was texting when he hit Munsterman. Bacon has been charged with texting while driving, reckless driving, driving on a suspended operator’s license and failure to yield to a vehicle with lights flashing. A court date has been scheduled for Sept. 9.

Texting while driving is a new primary offense in Virginia as of July 1.

Munsterman, 33, has been with the department since 2004. She could not be reached for comment, but she told NBC-4 in an interview that she remembers letting the driver off with a warning. She remembers the man’s relieved smile, she said in the interview. But she said she doesn’t remember much of what happened next.

“I want people just to realize the effect it has on me, on the people around me. I’m a mother. I’m a sister. I’m a friend, and I love what I do,” she said in the interview. “I want to get out there and do it again.”

Munsterman said she hopes to raise awareness.“If we could change one life that says . . . ‘I’m never going to text and drive again,’ then it was well worth it.”

The first of several “Hopes 4 Heather” fundraisers and awareness events is Saturday. The event includes a three-on-three basketball tournament and three-point contest from noon to 4 p.m. at the Manassas Boys and Girls Club. On Aug. 17, the Old Towne Sports Pub and Raise the Bar Strength and Conditioning are holding separate fundraisers.

More events are planned, said Sgt. Thomas Rodriguez, who leads the Manassas City Police Association. Munsterman is a dog lover, he said, so he and others are considering a dog-themed fundraiser.

The police association, which has primarily focused on college scholarship fundraising, has broadened its mission, and ideas about efforts to improve driving safety have poured in, Rodriguez said.

Some have focused on how to get young drivers tuned in to those issues early. One idea: Parents who sign up could get a bumper sticker for their teen’s car asking fellow drivers to call in if they witness poor or dangerous driving. Campaigns such as that could put potential eyes on young drivers who, perhaps, would be even more careful, Rodriguez said.

“I’m hoping to get some more ideas like that,” he said.

He said that the money raised will go toward Munsterman’s unexpected bills and that the association hopes to raise enough to establish a permanent fund for future officers who suffer work-related injuries. Munsterman recently started physical therapy that could last up to a year, police said.

“There’s going to come a point where there are going to be some [financial] needs,” Rodriguez said.

Virginia State Police officials have advocated on the issue as part of their “Move Over” campaign and law. State police started the campaign in 2007 after Trooper Robert A. Hill was struck and killed by a Cadillac while he was working a traffic stop in Southampton County, Va., in November 2006. Last year, Trooper Andrew D. Fox was killed at the Virginia State Fair in Hanover County while directing traffic.

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