ATLANTA — A north Georgia family is suing the popular app Snapchat for negligence, claiming it encouraged a teenage driver to take a picture while going more than 100 miles per hour.
Christal McGee crashed along Tara Boulevard in southern Clayton County last September injuring herself, three passengers in her car and permanently injuring the driver of the other car, Wentworth Maynard.
"I'm like, ‘What are you doing? Slow down!" Heather McCarty said she told McGee moments before the crash when she noticed how fast they were traveling.
She says the teenage driver was holding her phone in her hand.
"I asked her, ‘Did that keep up with the speed of the car?’ And she said, ‘Yeah.’ She was trying to hit 100 miles an hour and post it on Snapchat,'" McCarty told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.
Maynard’s lawsuit against Snapchat, a phone app immensely popular among teens, is getting national attention and is the latest chronicling the dangers of distracted driving.
McCarty, who was 27 at the time, was getting a ride home from McGee, who was her co-worker.
McCarty had never used Snapchat, which can track your speed as you take a picture or video, and offers a filter to share it with friends.
She said the highest speed she saw on McGee's phone was 113 mph, "I just remember screaming, ‘There's a car!’"
McCarty doesn't remember the crash, but she's lived with the impact ever since.
"I think it's very dangerous and I think a lot of people are unaware of the dangers of it," she said.
VICTIM SUFFERED BRAIN INJURY
Maynard, who was driving the car McGee rear-ended, will never be the same.
"He was in a coma, spent five weeks in intensive care. He has a brain injury that is permanent. His wife is having to take care of him," said Todd Henningsen, one of Maynard’s attorneys.
Maynard had just turned right out of his apartment complex onto Tara Boulevard where the speed limit is 55.
A crash reconstruction expert examined both vehicles and determined McGee's car was traveling 107 mph at the time of impact.
"There is no way to know that car is coming at you at 100 miles per hour," said attorney Chris Simon, who handled McCarty’s insurance claim.
He added that she has no financial interest in the case and only wanted the truth about the crash to be known.
Channel2 Action News filed an open records request and obtained the Lovejoy police report on the crash.
It indicates the patrol officer thought Maynard was to blame for turning in front of McGee, with no mention of the 100 mph-plus speed or the Snapchat app being used.
But in the witness statements written at the hospital immediately following the crash, McCarty noted that McGee "was going a little over 100 miles an hour."
Another passenger, Kaylan Henderson, wrote "she was on phone."
Henderson told Channel 2 she also saw McGee using the Snapchat app and that they were traveling around 100 mph.
Seven months later, when Channel 2 first started asking questions, police hadn't even written a ticket.
CHIEF: “THAT’S THE FIRST TIME I’VE HEARD OF IT”
In an interview with the Lovejoy police chief, Fleischer relayed what the passengers told Channel 2 and that the information was corroborated by some of the statements originally given to his patrol officer.
"Should he have gone to interview these folks afterward?" she asked.
"Yeah, I think he could have," Lovejoy Police Chief Mark Harris replied.
The chief defended the work his officer did on the case, but committed to doing more now.
"He could have asked some more questions," Harris acknowledged.
Fleischer then showed him how the Snapchat speedometer filter works, and that the driver has to be moving to use it.
"That's amazing. It's something new to me. That's the first time I've heard of it," Harris said.
The app does give a warning not to snap and drive, but that only shows up the first time it's used.
Dangerous drivers have posted plenty of pictures online showing off speeds well over 100 mph.
"If we can determine that the young lady was traveling at that amount of speed then she needs to be cited for it," Harris said.
He said it could be a super-speeder ticket and distracted driving.
They had never even seen a snap McGee posted of herself bleeding, moments after the crash; it reads, “Lucky to be alive.”
PARENTS MUST WARN TEENS, PASSENGER SAYS
"When I closed my eyes, I just prayed. I really thought I was not going to wake up," recalls McCarty, who was pregnant at the time of the crash.
Now a new mom, she says parents need to warn their teens about what could happen.
"Anybody that's in your vehicle, their life is in jeopardy, everybody else on the road as well," she said.
And she thinks Snapchat has a responsibility to make its app safer, "I don't really see a real reason anybody would actually need that and I think it's causing more harm than good."
McCarty plans to be a witness in a lawsuit the Maynard family recently filed against Snapchat, saying it encourages drivers to use that speedometer filter, by offering points and trophies.
The suit also names McGee, who could not be reached for comment.
Snapchat sent Channel 2 a written statement saying: "No Snap is more important than someone’s safety. We actively discourage our community from using the speed filter while driving, including by displaying a "Do NOT Snap and Drive" warning message in the app itself."
The statement continues, “The complaint filed in this case is not factually accurate. Among other things, Snapchat has never offered in-app trophies or additional points for using the speed filter.”
CALL FOR ACTION
Wentworth Maynard's family is calling on supporters to sign a petition on Change.org asking Snapchat to discontinue the speed filter from the app. CLICK HERE to view the petition.
Cox Media Group