OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – An east Alabama attorney is serving his jail sentence for killing a man during a 2020 Interstate 85 crash in Opelika. The incident serves as a cautionary tale of distracted driving’s deadly and life-altering consequences. 

The sobering image of a crinkled-up white Kia Rio illustrates the carnage of distracted cell phone driving. 51-year-old Thomas Ralston Jr, of Maryland was driving this car when he was hit from behind after stopping for an unrelated crash alongside I-85. Ralston was killed instantly. 

Evidence indicates the driver who hit him, east Alabama attorney Nicholas Palerino, never braked before impact. 

“Mr. Paularino was traveling 75 to 79 mph. He was on his cell phone looking at social media apps and did not realize traffic had stopped,”’ said Jessica Ventiere, Lee County’s  District Attorney. 

According to Palerino’s cell phone data, social media apps were in constant use for more than five minutes until the impact.

“I think a lot of times people think of themselves as the one that could be hurt and they don’t consider they could be the person who causes someone else’s death,” said Ventiere.

A family lost a loved one forever, and a person who by all accounts is decent and kind took a life and will pay the consequences. Palerino pled guilty to Reckless Manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years split to serve one. 

Ventiere urges all of us to keep our hands off our phones and on the wheel while driving. This tragedy serves as a reminder it only takes a second of distraction to cause a lifetime of sorrow and regret. 

“He didn’t wake up in the morning saying I’m going to cause the death of somebody today.  We all need those reminders. Every single one of us needs reminders about texting, and calling because it only takes a second,” said Ventiere.

Paulrino begins serving his one-year sentence at the Lee County Detention Facility on February 17. As a part of a sentence, he will need to speak with 10 groups about the dangers and ramifications of distracted, driving. WRBL reached out to see if he would like to share his experience with our viewers. We will let you know if we hear back.