A Deadly Wandering Summary

Matt Richtel

A Deadly Wandering

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A Deadly Wandering Summary

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A Deadly Wandering is a nonfiction psychology book by journalist Matt Richtel. It opens in 2006 as Reggie Shaw, a 19-year-old from Utah, is driving his car. He is a Latter-day Saint, or Mormon, and has just been denied for a two-year mission. This is considered a rite of passage within his faith, and being rejected is unusual as well as shameful. Even more shameful is the fact that he was rejected for having premarital sex with his girlfriend and initially lied about it. As Reggie drives, a man named John Kaiserman is driving behind him, and notes that Reggie’s driving is erratic. Two rocket scientists, Jim Furfaro and Keith O’Dell are on route to work when Reggie drives into their lane, leading to an accident between the scientists and John. John calls the police; Jim and Keith die of injuries sustained in the accident. Bart Rindlisbacher, a state trooper called to the scene, suspects that Reggie was texting and driving.

Reggie insists that he hydroplaned and lost control of the car. His older brother—a lawyer—tells him to stop offering information to the police. Reggie’s dad, Ed, is concerned that Reggie will be arrested. Rindlisbacher continues to review the evidence surrounding the collision, unable to ignore his gut feeling that Reggie isn’t being honest with him. The story is interspersed with chapters about the science of attention, or lack thereof. Richtel decides that “distraction is a powerful weapon.”

Meanwhile, Reggie isn’t behaving like himself and his mother is worried. Rindlisbacher wants to interview him again, and his mother insists that their lawyer be present while the state trooper questions Reggie. Reggie’s best friend, Dallas Miller, proves a positive influence on Reggie’s life, but his older brother Nick is the opposite. Reggie and Nick have always been competitive, even when playing video games as children.

Richtel then explains the impact technology has on teenagers’ lives, citing a 2007 study performed by Nationwide that showed a majority of drivers talk on the phone while behind the wheel. Teens like Reggie are one of the biggest demographics in that statistic.

After three days, Reggie finally leaves his house to see a counselor named Gaylyn White. She asks him to meditate, write in a journal, and exercise. She also suggests writing letters to Jim’s and Keith’s families. He does so, apologizing profusely. After another ten days, Gaylyn thinks Reggie is improving, but still has a ways to go. She thinks he’s lying about what caused the accident to cover something else that’s bothering him. Reggie meets with Jon Bunderson, his lawyer, and tells him that the wet roads were to blame for the accident. A few weeks later, a car accident claims the lives of two people, and cell phone use is a culprit.

Reggie’s old baseball coach gets him a job at a car dealership. Jim’s wife Jackie and Keith’s wife Leila both learn that Reggie has hired a lawyer. Rindlisbacher still doesn’t believe Reggie’s story about hydroplaning, and thinks Reggie was texting. Bunderson asks Reggie if he was texting, and Reggie’s mother looks at their cell phone bill to try to determine if he was indeed sending messages at the time of the accident. The county subpoenas those phone records.

Leila learns from Rindlisbacher that he saw Reggie texting in his car on the way from the accident to the hospital. Reggie starts a new job working as an assistant coach for the Bear River Bears and begins dating a girl named Tasha Haber. Analysis of Reggie’s phone records shows that he was indeed texting right up until the accident. The next step is to find out who Reggie was texting and why. He was texting a 19-year-old named Briana Bishop. In an interview, Briana claims that she doesn’t recall the content of the texts. Meanwhile, Reggie finds out that, following his period of repentance for premarital sex, he has been approved for a mission. He is overjoyed.

It’s now mid-2007, and Reggie is living in the Missionary Training Center. Investigators want to prove that Reggie drove with criminal negligence, but in this new legal arena, it’s difficult to accomplish. Reggie leaves for Canada where he begins his mission. Leila and Jackie want justice for their husbands’ deaths. A legal intern working with them wants Reggie charged with negligent homicide.

A month into his mission, Reggie is told he must go back to Utah, as charges filed against him by the state—a Class A misdemeanor of negligent homicide. His father tells him that the authorities know he was texting. At home, Reggie is diagnosed with severe anxiety, but he refuses to take medication. Rindlisbacher delays the trial because he begins to second-guess himself, wondering if he handled his first interview with Reggie the right way. Bunderson tries to strengthen Reggie’s defense by attempting to keep the prosecution from submitting certain evidence and trying to poke holes in John Kaiserman’s eyewitness testimony.

Reggie moves out of his parents’ house and enrolls in a community college. A judge decides that Rindlisbacher can testify while Bunderson tries to arrange a plea bargain. During expert testimony, Reggie becomes convinced that his texting was the reason Jim and Keith died. He agrees to a plea deal. He will take a 90-day jail sentence with community service and agree to testify in future criminal hearings that involve texting. If he meets these demands, his record can be expunged. Reggie agrees. Because of his testimony, H.B.290, or The Prohibition of Wireless Communication Device Use in a Motor Vehicle, passes and Reggie’s jail time is decreased to 30 days—his sentence is commuted after he spends 18 days in jail.

Three years later, Reggie is a public speaker, sharing his story to convince others of the dangers of distracted driving.