Ashley McIntosh's death, mother's campaign lead to passage of Va. traffic bill

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 2011; 11:23 PM

Cindy Colasanto had zero experience with the political process before February 2008. No lobbying. No testifying. No petitioning.

But then a Fairfax County police officer zoomed through a red light without her siren on and slammed into the car driven by Colasanto's daughter, Ashley McIntosh, a 33-year-old kindergarten teacher's assistant. McIntosh was killed.

Not long after that, a judge found the officer not guilty of reckless driving.

So Colasanto launched a campaign in 2008 to change Virginia's law on how emergency vehicles may drive through intersections with red lights or stop signs. She sat outside legislators' offices. Testified in hearings. Handed out fact sheets and video discs with the officer's dashboard footage of her daughter's fatal crash.

And "Ashley's Law" was born.

On Thursday, the two houses of Virginia's General Assembly passed the bill by a combined 137 to 1. It would require those operating police cars and fire engines in Virginia to activate emergency lights and sound sirens before driving through a stop light, slow down and yield to other cars, or stop completely if they wanted to keep the siren silent.

The bill now goes to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), whose spokesman said the governor would review it and decide whether to sign it.

"It was a long journey," Colasanto said, "but in the end, common sense prevailed."

"It wouldn't have passed if she hadn't taken an active role," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who helped push the bill through the House. "Cindy was pretty aggressive, and that's what it takes around here sometimes."

Virginia law requires police and fire vehicles using emergency lights to sound the siren or horn "as may be reasonably necessary." Police wanted to maintain their discretion to approach a scene silently.

Colasanto wanted police to sound their vehicle's siren at all times when in pursuit or rapid dispatch and to stop at all red lights. She believes that her daughter would be alive if Officer Amanda Perry had her siren wailing before entering the intersection of Route 1 and Boswell Avenue in the Mount Vernon area and driving through a red light at 38 mph.

The compromise that satisfied both sides added this language to the law: The emergency vehicle that does not have its siren on must slow down "to a speed reasonable for the existing conditions," yield to drivers approaching from another direction or come to a complete stop.

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