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After losing daughter to a distracted driver in 2019, she turned pain into purpose

Memorial for Caitlin Festerling and Paul Garcia
Posted at 11:20 PM, Feb 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-24 01:20:01-05

ORO VALLEY, Ariz. (KGUN) — For nearly four years, one mom has made it her mission to educate the public on the dangers of distracted driving after losing her child to a distracted driver.

"I still find myself looking at the clock thinking Lala will be home," said Julie Festerling, whose daughter was killed in a fatal 2019 crash. "We all called her Lala. Lala will be home, and then she never comes home."

For Festerling, it was like a nightmare come true the day she received news that her daughter, Caitlin, was involved in the crash.

"It couldn’t be real. That could not have happened," she said, recalling the event. "You’re just telling me my daughter didn’t survive, but what does that really mean?"

The lives of 21-year-old Caitlin and her boyfriend, 22-year-old Paul Garcia, were cut short on November 13, 2019, after being rear-ended by a distracted driver near Shannon Road in Oro Valley.

Festerling described her daughter as a hard worker who was working two jobs and a full-time student at the time of her death.

"She had that energy, walks into a room, and lights up the room. And all because of one day, one mistake somebody made, she didn’t come home that day."

A day that would change her life forever, Festerling would go on to co-found "Phones Down, Hands Up," a nonprofit aimed at educating the public on the dangers of distracted driving.

"We just needed to take that pain and put it into something good," she said.

This April — also Distracted Driving Month — makes four years since the organization's inception.

Festerling originally began volunteering with another local nonprofit before going on to co-found the organization with Garcia's mother.

Toward the end of the conversation, she also shared stories of others who were fortunate to walk away from a crash, many of them wearing bracelets with Caitlin and Paul’s names.

"And they’ll say, ‘Hey, your angels are watching over us,’ because they’re walking away from crashes," she said. "And then we’ll get into the ‘if only they could have walked away that day.’"

After rejecting a plea deal in December, Janna Brianne Giron, the woman accused of causing the fatal crash, is set to go to trial this June.

Kenny Darr is a reporter for KGUN 9. He joined the team in January 2023. Before arriving in Arizona he was an Anchor and Reporter at KADN in Lafayette, LA. Share your story ideas with Kenny by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.