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Law from Conejo Valley legislator to combat street racing deaths called 'key step' in battling problem

Some parents of fatal car crashes involving vehicles which were street racing, or speeding excessively are applauding a new law which will tough penalities for drivers convicted of the crimes in California.
Clark Van Der Beken
Some parents of fatal car crash victims, involving vehicles which were street racing or speeding excessively, are applauding a new law which will apply tough penalties on drivers convicted of the crimes in California

Bill named after teen killed by crash involving speeding driver. Legislation requires DA's to seek tougher penalties in similar instances.

It’s a pain no family should have to endure…but it’s one that Carin and Jeff Koeppel have had to live with for more than two years. It’s the death of their teenage son. They say what’s made it even harder to face is the fact is it was preventable.

"Our son Ryan was tragically killed on August 6, 2020 at the age of 16 in a collision where one of the factors was a reckless driver, who was going double the speed limit on a surface street," said Koeppel. "The driver was only charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, despite having a prior citation for excessive speeding."

"He walked away with one year probation, 40 days of community labor, and six months suspended license, all for killing our son," said Koeppel.

A state senator who represents the Conejo Valley says the situation is unacceptable, with dangerous speeding, street racing and illegal side shows causing deaths, and injuries throughout California.

"People use cars like they are toys," said Democratic State Senator Henry Stern. He sponsored legislation to try to help address this issue. SB 1472 would require District Attorneys to seek tougher penalties cases of this type where someone is killed. It was approved by the state legislature, signed into law by the Governor, and takes effect January 1, 2023. It’s called Ryan’s Law, and is named after Ryan Koeppel.

"When you treat murder like it's a traffic infraction, you know it's wrong," said Stern.

It’s welcome news to Lily Trujillo. Her teenage daughter was getting a ride home from a friend when the car was involved in a street racing crash.

"I became a traffic safety officer when I learned what traffic safety violence was doing to our streets," said Trujillo.

Carin Koppel says the legislation is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. She loves the idea of putting the information about the new law on the DMV test.

And some others pushing for more street safety, say part of the bigger picture is a cultural change. They say from TV commercials, to movies like the Fast And The Furious franchise, kids and teens see things that glorify street racing.

Damian Kevitt is Executive Director of the non-profit group called Safe: Streets Are For Everyone.

"How do we have these companies who claim to be so caring about their community step up for something they are arguably directly causing," said Kevitt.

But Carin Koppell, who lost her son to reckless driving, says the new legislation going into effect in the state January 1, is a solid start.

"Today is a victory in the fight to make California's streets safer for everyone," said Koppell.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.