Alexandra Mansonet is the New Jersey woman facing up to 10 years in prison after a jury found her guilty of vehicular homicide in a distracted driving case.
Prosecutors say Mansonet was texting when she slammed into another vehicle on September 28, 2016, in Hazlet, New Jersey. The impact caused the second vehicle to lurch forward and strike a woman in the crosswalk. The pedestrian, identified as 39-year-old Yuwen Wang, died a few days later.
This case marked the first time that prosecutors applied a New Jersey law that went into effect in 2012, in which distracted driving penalties were elevated to the same level as punishments for drunken driving.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Prosecutors Said Alexandra Mansonet Was Responding to a Message About Dinner Plans; She Told the Jury She Was Turning On the Defogger
Alexandra Mansonet told the police following the crash that she had looked away from the road in order to turn on the rear defogger. She claimed that in those few moments, she didn’t notice that the car in front of her had stopped. She repeated this claim while testifying during the trial, the Asbury Park Press reported.
But Monmouth County prosecutors said that the evidence disputed that account. Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Decker explained to the jury that Mansonet had received a text about one minute before the crash that was about that night’s dinner plans. The message was from her former sister-in-law. It read, “Cuban, American, Mexican – pick one.” Prosecutors said Mansonet had typed in the letters “M” and “E” before crashing. Mansonet handed over her phone to police following the crash and never deleted the message.
In a news release announcing the guilty verdict, Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni stated that he hoped the case would serve as a lesson to the rest of the community that texting while driving is never a good idea. “This is a tragedy in every respect. Texting while driving puts drivers and pedestrians in grave danger and we are hopeful that the jury’s verdict will reinforce the public’s awareness of this risk. Even taking your eyes off the road for mere seconds is not worth the risk of the serious bodily injury or death that can result from texting while driving.”
2. Alexandra Mansonet Never Activated Her Brakes Before Slamming Into the Second Vehicle, Prosecutors Said
The deadly crash happened just before 8:30 a.m. on September 28, 2016, in Hazlet, New Jersey. Alexandra Mansonset was driving her 2000 Mercedes Benz. At the intersection of Laurel Avenue and Sixth Street, a 2011 Toyota Corolla had come to a stop. The driver, Robert Matich, whose son was also in the car, had stopped to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.
Prosecutors said that Alexandra Mansonet made no attempt to stop and that the evidence showed she never put her foot on the brake before slamming into the back of the Toyota Corolla. The impact caused Matich’s vehicle to lurch forward. Yuwen Wang was in the crosswalk at the time and she was struck.
Mansonet rejected a plea deal that would have resulted in a prison term between 3 and 5 years, opting instead to go to trial. Now she faces up to 10 years behind bars following the guilty verdict.
3. Yuwen Wang & Her Husband Had Just Celebrated Their Sixth Wedding Anniversary & Were Trying to Have a Baby When She Was Killed
Yuwen Wang hit the windshield and was then thrown away from the vehicle, according to Robert Matich’s son, Joseph. He testified that he saw Wang’s head bounce multiple times on the pavement “like a basketball, the Asbury Park Press reported.
Wang was transported to the Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center’s Trauma Unit in New Brunswick by helicopter. She suffered severe brain trauma. The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office says that Wang died from her injuries a few days after the collision on October 3, 2019.
Wang was 39 years old at the time of her death. Her husband, Steven Qiu, told the New York Times that his wife was originally from Taiwan. She had a Ph.D. and had been working as a scientist at a fragrance manufacturer. The couple had just celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary and were trying to become parents when she was struck in that Hazlet intersection. Qiu said the final words he remembers his wife saying to him were, “Have a good day.”
4. New Jersey Elevated the Penalties For Distracted Driving in 2012 To Be On Par With Drunk Driving
In New Jersey, distracted driving is punishable at the same level as drunken driving. If a driver causes serious injuries or death due to texting behind the wheel, they face penalties equal to that of a DUI. In Alexandra Mansonet’s case, vehicular homicide is a second-degree felony punishable by a fine of up to $150,000 and a prison term between 5 and 10 years.
New Jersey tightened its restrictions on distracted driving with a 2012 law. The measure was called “Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis’ Law,” named after victims who were either killed or seriously injured in distracted driving incidents. One of the law’s sponsors, Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, said at the time of its passing, “Any driver willing to play Russian Roulette with other people’s lives should face the stiffest penalties possible.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 10 percent of fatal crashes between 2013 and 2017 involved distracted drivers. In 14 percent of those cases, cellphone use was determined to be a factor. In 2017 alone, more than 3,000 people died in distracted driving crashes.
5. Alexandra Mansonet Serves as the CEO of a Nonprofit Organization & Was Praised For Her Community Service
Alexandra Mansonet serves as the CEO of the Jewish Renaissance Foundation in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. On the nonprofit organization’s website, Mansonet was praised as a “dynamo of community service” and that she had “built her success and reputation on big-hearted caring.” She goes by the nickname “Sandy” and her full last name appears to be Mansonet-Cross.
The page states that Mansonet was awarded the Civic Leader of the Year by the Perth Amboy Merchants Association in 2008 for her work with troubled students. In October of 2019, she was granted the Inspirational Award from the mayor of Perth Amboy.
The bio goes on to note that Mansonet graduated from Perth Amboy High, studied community psychology at Montclair State and earned a master’s degree in social work from Yeshiva University. It also says she was a “long-time minister at her church.”
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