116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
An Iowa State Patrol trooper disagrees with a medical examiner about how two people died in a motor-vehicle crash last month.
Paul Lauritson, 42, and his girlfriend, 36-year-old Stephanie Dripps, both of Dysart, died Oct. 8 when the car Lauritson was driving was broadsided by a sport-utility vehicle as it crossed 19th Avenue south of Garrison. Lauritson's death was ruled a suicide and Dripps' death was ruled a homicide by the Benton County Medical Examiner's Office, according to death certificates.
But Trooper Nathan Miller, who investigated the crash, said too many factors, including a semi-blind intersection, lead him to believe it was just a freak accident. During his investigation, Miller talked to a former employer of Lauritson's, who said Lauritson replaced the windshield on the car involved in the fatal crash in Cedar Rapids the afternoon of the crash.
It seems very unlikely to Miller and the former employer that Lauritson would replace the windshield if he intended to cause a crash that would kill him and his girlfriend.
Benton County Deputy Medical Examiner Mark Dearden, who made the suicide and homicide rulings, has declined to explain how he came to the conclusion. An autopsy report filed at the Benton County Attorney's Office, has not been made public.
“It could be a possibility, but it's not 100 percent in my book, so I don't think it's fair to rule the way he did,” Miller said.
Miller said a note written by Dripps was found in Dripps' purse. It is unclear who the note is written to, but it references Lauritson's criminal history and mentions assisting someone with an investigation, Miller said.
“The note is very general,” Miller said. “At the end of it, she says, ‘Please don't let my name slip out, or Paul will kill me.' It'd be different if a note was written by Paul, saying, ‘I'm going to kill this woman.'”
Miller said a suicide ruling eliminates any possible life insurance benefits for surviving family members, including Lauritson's estranged wife. A civil lawsuit is a possibility, he said.
“This accident took seconds, but this is going to take years,” Miller said.