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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — A grieving daughter of an Iowa City woman, who was killed in an all-terrain vehicle crash in 2020, said Monday her mother’s death changed her family and “huge chunks of their hearts are missing.”
Rebecca Hansen, in a victim impact statement, said it still makes her “physically sick” to think about how her mother, Mary Kay Knight, 65, was “crushed to death” by the vehicle when it rolled over in a ravine.
“There was no justice for my mother, but there needs to be justice for Julie Bell, and I hope she is sentenced to (maximum) sentence,” Hansen said during Bell’s vehicular homicide sentencing.
Bell, 64, of North Liberty, pleaded guilty in March to homicide by vehicle-reckless driving. A charge of homicide by vehicle-operating under the influence was dismissed during sentencing.
Assistant Johnson County Attorney Michael Lang said Bell was driving a Kawasaki Mule ATV in a reckless manner and caused the death of her passenger, Knight, on July 16, 2020, on Knight’s property.
Bell had driven in that area many times and was familiar with the curve and should have known the ATV would tip over, he said.
Her actions were “criminal and caused” Knight’s death, Lang added. He asked 6th Judicial District Judge Jason Besler to sentence Bell to 10 years in prison.
Quint Meyerdirk, Bell’s lawyer, asked the judge for a deferred judgment and probation.
He said Bell has accepted responsibility for her actions and is dealing with her “issues.” Bell has told him she will pay restitution to the victim’s estate that will be part of her sentence.
Bell, during the hearing, said she knew “no amount of money or anything I could say” could cancel the pain she caused the Knight family.
“I’m so, so sorry … from the bottom of my soul,” Bell said.
Besler said the crash was “clearly a tragedy that was caused by your reckless behavior resulting in permanent loss.” There was no excuse for driving in a reckless manner that day, he said.
“The facts of this case are horrible because a person was killed through no fault of their own because of reckless and thoughtless actions,” the judge said.
He pointed out a deferred judgment wasn’t appropriate because Bell had received one before in a past conviction. Her criminal history includes convictions for public intoxication, drunken driving and assault causing injury but the charges were not recent. The most recent, before the ATV crash, was in 2011.
Besler, who said this was a “difficult call for the court,” accepted the recommendation of the presentencing report and sentenced Bell to 10 years in prison but suspended the sentence and gave her five years probation.
Bell must pay $150,000 to Knight’s estate or heirs, which is required by Iowa law.
According to a criminal complaint and search warrant affidavit, Bell called the Johnson County Joint Emergency Communications Center at 6:03 p.m. July 16, 2020, and reported she was driving the ATV at 2664 Newport Rd. in Solon when she lost control of the four-wheeler.
When deputies arrived, they found her passenger, Knight, pinned underneath the vehicle in a ravine on Knight’s property.
Deputies, according to an affidavit, said Bell was “very emotional and distraught” when they arrived. She said she lost her phone during the crash, which also ejected her from the ATV, and she had to run back to Knight’s house to call 911. Bell smelled of alcohol and was slurring her speech, a deputy noted.
The four-wheeler was on its side with Knight trapped under it, and deputies couldn’t find a pulse, according to court documents.
Law enforcement found Bell’s phone under Knight’s body after the medical examiner moved her from the crash scene.
Bell told law enforcement that she and Knight had had a few drinks earlier. Bell admitted to being the driver and also said Knight told her to go faster, but when they went south around a curve, she lost control of the ATV.
Bell was treated at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for injuries, and deputies obtained a search warrant for a blood sample. Her blood alcohol level was over the 0.08 percent legal limit, according to a criminal complaint.
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