Austin Gage Hunnewell Foden, 25, FL

Austin Gage Hunnewell Foden

At approximately 7 a.m. on the morning of September 22, 2022, Austin Gage Hunnewell Foden was struck and killed by a vehicle on Picciola Road in Fruitland Park, FL, as he was walking to work. The accident was the result of a distracted driver behind the wheel.

The driver hit him from the side, and it was impossible for Austin to react in time to avoid the collision. Because of the force of the strike, Austin was flung over the car and suffered fatal injuries. Despite the brutality of the accident and its catastrophic consequences, the driver wasn’t charged, let alone convicted.

Austin was a 25-year-old man who loved outdoor life, spending hours hunting and fishing when he wasn’t under the hood of one of the cars he was fixing up. None of that compared to the love he had for his girls, however. He adored them as much as they adored him, and his death left a trail of grief throughout the lives of those who knew him.

His infectious laugh and constant striving to be a better man for his daughters and younger brother made him a vibrant and crucial part of his family.

At the time of the accident, Austin and his mother, Lori Hunnewell, weren’t on the best terms, a fact she regrets. She wanted a better life for him, free from the same mistakes she’d made. They were so alike that they often butted heads, but she thought she’d have time to put things right.

The guilt of not having made up before the accident follows her every day. “I’ve never felt more alone,” she states. “My child is gone forever. Even more devastating is that others don’t seem to care until it happens to them personally.”

Distracted driving is a serious concern throughout Florida, and it’s led the Florida Department of Highway Safety to partner with law enforcement and create the Put It Down: Focus on Driving campaign.

The state also passed the Wireless Communications While Driving Law, which took effect in July 2019 and requires drivers to put their phones down.

The laws attempt to prevent all types of distractions, from visual ones that take drivers’ eyes off the road to manual ones that take their hands off the wheel and cognitive distractions that lead to drivers having their minds on anything except operating the vehicle.

Although distractions abound, texting and other cell phone use are the biggest concern. Looking down to text takes the mind and eyes off the road for at least five seconds. Driving at an average speed, the vehicle could travel the length of a football field in that time.

Despite the steps Florida has taken, distracted driving deaths continue to occur in the state. In 2022 alone, there were 53,596 distracted driving crashes that resulted in 268 fatalities. All types of pedestrian fatalities throughout the state amounted to 765 in 2022, with distracted driving being a significant factor in the majority.

And Austin’s family has still not received justice for his death. “Nothing about his case makes sense to me. After what I read, how could she not be charged?” his mother says, speaking of the woman who caused the fatal accident.

The complexities of the law and the technicalities that could affect convictions impact families all over the state. Someone who’s driven while distracted will likely do so again, which continues to put people in danger.

“I can’t begin to explain the hurt and loss I now carry every day,” Lorie says. Like many affected by distracted driving losses, that pain is likely to continue.

Lorie urges people, “Never take your loved ones for granted. They could be here today and taken tomorrow.”