“Gavin’s Law came to be after my husband Gavin Gladding was killed in a hit and run accident on September 16th, 2018. Losing my husband was a terrible loss, but the way in which it happened and not knowing what had occurred for six days following the accident compounded our pain,” Susan Gladding recalls of the tragic event that altered not just her and her family’s lives, but also those of the students who knew him as Vice Principal Gladding at Fort Washington Elementary School in Clovis.
When the man who hit Gavin (out on an early morning run) finally came forward, legal loopholes concerning how hit and runs are prosecuted became apparent. “The driver was eventually arrested and I learned that the maximum penalty for this crime was four years in prison.” That was because the driver fled—had he stayed and been assessed for substance impairment at the time the accident occurred, he could’ve faced as many as 10 years in prison. Because intoxication could not be proven, “The driver was sentenced to only three years in prison and my family and I knew that something needed to be done to change the law to close the loophole that incentivizes drivers to flee.”
“Hit and run crimes are an epidemic in our county and in the state. Bringing attention to this issue is important. In the months after Gavin passed away, I was shocked by the number of hit and runs that occurred,” confesses Susan. “We still have a long way to go before the Bill is approved, however to date, I believe our biggest success has been in raising awareness of the issue and getting others to acknowledge that the loophole exists.”
Legal action had to be taken, so Susan rallied a team of public servants that transcends party lines. “Our team, under Assemblyman Jim Patterson, started work on [Assembly Bill] 582 in November of 2018 and the work is ongoing.” Co-authors to the Bill include Senator Andreas Borgeas, as well as Assembly members Adam Gray, Tom Lackey, James Gallagher, Dr. Joaquin Arambula, Frank Bigelow, Mike Gipson, and Eduardo Garcia.
The Bill first appeared before the Public Safety Committee this past March 19th. Susan’s testimony was difficult to dispute—she argued that in California, drunk drivers who flee the scene of a fatal crash face a lighter punishment than those who stay, thus current laws are incentivizing delinquents to leave.
Despite being less than optimistic about the outcome that day, Susan’s appeal was so exceptionally compelling that the Committee decided to postpone voting in order to further investigate the laws that she plead to rectify. “We went in anticipating that the Bill would not move past the Committee due to the state’s current movement to reduce incarceration and penalties for crimes. Instead, the Committee members acknowledged that the loophole exists in the current law and committed to working with us to move the Bill forward. While making it through that Committee was the first step in a long process, it was a critical one.” The next hearing for Gavin’s Law with the Public Safety Committee is scheduled for January of 2020.
Continuous support from family, friends, and the community help make that wait more bearable for Susan. Patience is key. “I was told when we started down this path that getting the Bill approved would be an uphill battle. Others had tried in the past. Getting through the Public Safety Committee was going to be a difficult task. Not because the Bill did not make sense, but because the current movement in the state is to reduce prison sentences instead of increasing them. It will take patience and persistence to continue to move the Bill forward.”
Persistence comes in the form of an array of media and outreach. “We have utilized social media, the local radio stations, and news stations to spread the word about Gavin’s Law and have encouraged people to visit the website at www.gavinslaw.com to sign the petition supporting the Bill.” A rally was held in Fresno a few days before the March Committee hearing to gain momentum, additional support, and to spread the word about Gavin’s Law and its need. “I anticipate that an additional rally will occur prior to the next hearing,” reveals Susan.
Vice Principal Gavin Gladding was beloved by his students—Susan plans to honor his memory by touching young lives in a more direct sense. “In addition to the work on Gavin’s Law, I am starting a non-profit organization called the Gavin Gladding Foundation. This Foundation will provide scholarships and grants to support education and environmental stewardship. The goal is to establish the Foundation by the end of the summer and begin fundraising in the fall.”
Between her work with Gavin’s Law and the Foundation, being a mom, and working full-time, finding balance, or even sanity, can be a challenge. “This is tricky and I’m not certain that there is balance at all times. I am now a single mother of two children, work a full-time corporate job, am advocating for Gavin’s Law, and starting a non-profit. There isn’t a lot of extra time in my days. I find that scheduling out my week is very important so that I know what is happening each day and where I need to ask for help. I’ve gotten very good at asking for help and couldn’t do all of these things without the support of my friends, family, and community.”
Gavin and Susan have two children (son Carter, 11, and daughter Isla, 9) whom she calls “gifts and the most important people in my world … they bring so much joy and laughter to every single day … I want to raise them to lead with kindness, to fight for what’s important, and to also enjoy every single beautiful gift that life has to offer. I want to provide the tools and foundation for my kids to be successful both personally and professionally.”
Susan’s kids may be her motivation, her why. But she begins each day with her “morning cup of coffee—I couldn’t start my day without it.” She’ll never pass up an ice-cream cookie sandwich from Cold Stone Creamery or a chocolate lava cake, straight from the oven. When she can, Susan finds physical and mental rejuvenation in exercise. “It is what keeps me even, focused, and energized to get through my days … just getting outside for a walk, hike, or bike ride and leaving the distraction of our busy lives behind, even a short period of time, is sometimes all I need.”
Simply being grateful for the little things in life and the blessing of another day reminds us that happiness is a choice. “Even in this most difficult time in my life I am able to find happiness and joy because I am blessed in so many ways. Big and small. We all are. If you take the time to look at your life and what gifts you have been given, and appreciate those gifts, the joy and happiness will follow.”
“Losing Gavin and living through the legal process that followed has been the most difficult experience of my life. I have realized over the past nine months my three truths: 1) The only thing that I have control over in this world is how I feel and how I choose to move on from here. I could sit in my anger and sadness or I could choose to see the goodness that still exists around me and choose happiness. It is a choice. 2) Don’t wait—do the thing today, as we are not promised tomorrow. 3) Community and connection is everything—it is what life is about. Nurture your relationships because in the end, the connection with those that you love mean the very most.”