Driver checked phone for text before fatal crash

SANTA ROSA (BCN)

A pickup truck driver who killed two women when he slammed into the rear of a vehicle in Santa Rosa on Saturday evening admitted he was checking a text message on his cellphone before the crash, a California Highway Patrol officer said.

Nicholas Lee Tognozzi, 30, of Rohnert Park, was driving a 2005 GMC Sierra at about 5:20 p.m. Saturday when he struck the rear of a 2001 Toyota Camry, killing Susan Hufford, 53, and Sharon Hufford, 74, both of Santa Rosa, CHP officials said.

Tognozzi was driving east on state Highway 12 at 55 to 65 mph when he looked up after checking his phone and noticed traffic ahead of him had stopped, CHP Officer Kerri Post said.

Tognozzi told the CHP he could not stop in time and the truck struck the rear of the Camry, which was about 850 feet west of Farmers Lane. The force of the collision pushed the Camry into the rear of a 2005 Suzuki Aerio. All of the vehicles were in the same lane, Post said.

The two women killed were in the back seat of the Camry. The front seat passenger, Donald Hufford, 74, of Santa Rosa, suffered major injuries and was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, CHP officials said.

The Toyota’s driver, Jay Randolph Hufford, 54, of Santa Rosa, suffered a head laceration.

Susan Hufford, a music teacher in the Mark West Union School District, was Jay Hufford’s wife. Sharon Hufford was his mother and Donald Hufford is his father.

Tognozzi was arrested on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence causing death.

He posted $100,000 bail and was released from Sonoma County Jail at 4 a.m. Sunday. He is scheduled to be arraigned in Sonoma County Superior Court on Friday afternoon.

Tognozzi was arrested on March 10, 2011, for misdemeanor driving on a suspended license and an infraction for driving a vehicle with a defective headlamp, according to court records.

A misdemeanor count of driving without a license was added to the complaint and Tognozzi pleaded no contest to that charge on May 11, 2011. The other two charges were dismissed.

Tognozzi provided proof of a license and insurance, was given a conditional 12-month sentence and was fined $250. He paid the fine on Aug. 5, 2011, and his conditional sentence expired on May 11, 2012, according to court records.

(Copyright 2014 Bay City News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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