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Petition demands higher charges for driver involved in 2020 accident that killed two ND first-year students

| Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The driver in the Oct. 24 accident that killed two University students and injured a third was charged with two misdemeanors for drunk driving. Justin Cavallo is facing up to 120 days in prison and a $500 fine. But frustration about what some perceive are insufficient charges has materialized into an online Change.org petition — “Justice for Olivia Rojas and Valeria Espinel: Arrest Justin Cavallo.”

Courtesy of Carlos Fabrega
Valeria, left, and Olivia, were killed Oct. 24, 2020, after being struck by a car on Ironwood Road.

Natalie Hodnett, childhood friend of 14 years to Rojas, said she started the petition to spread awareness and to advocate for higher charges. At the time of publication, the petition had received over 19,000 signatures.

“When they announced that Justin Cavallo was only getting two misdemeanors, it didn’t really get much attention, at least from the media that people back home, where Olivia’s from, really know about,” Hodnett, who attends the University of Florida, said. “It honestly took a lot of digging for me to actually find this information out.”

Sophomore Isabella Botello said she hopes the petition will be able to bring some peace to the families of the victims.

“I don’t know if something big is going to happen or come out of this,” Botello said. “But I think doing this whole movement and giving the support to the families is what matters the most right now — giving them the strength that people are with them.”

The petition is calling on the South Bend Police Department, the St. Joseph County Prosecutor, Indiana Attorney General, U.S. Attorney General, U.S. Attorney Northern District of Indiana and Gov. Eric Holcomb to change the charges in order to directly connect Cavallo to the fatal crash. Currently, he is only facing two class C misdemeanor charges related to drunk driving.

On the day of the accident, Cavallo’s blood alcohol content was 0.13, according to the South Bend Tribune, 0.05 over the limit of 0.08.

Drunk driving, Hodnett said, is a pervasive issue that impacts many communities, not just Notre Dame.

“If this happens and people who are driving drunk don’t get the correct sentence,” Hodnett said, “I feel like that sends a message saying ‘It’s okay. You can get drunk, you can drive. You can even kill people and you won’t go to jail.’ So, it really sets a bad example for every community.”

The petition cites Tim Spencer — commander of the St. Joseph County Fatal Crash Team (FACT) — as saying that an inability to prove Cavallo actually caused the crash is the reason no charges pertaining to the crash itself have been filed.

“There should be some justice done to give more peace for everything that happened,” Botello said. “Justice has to be done in some way.”

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About Maggie Klaers

Originally from Minneapolis, Klaers is a sophomore biology and visual communications design major. She currently serves as Graphics Editor.

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