Public Safety

Judge rejects plea with no jail time in fatal texting while driving crash

Cedar Rapids woman now faces up to 2 years in Sept. 25 sentencing

Kaitlyn Richards glances toward her attorney during a hearing originally scheduled as her sentencing at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City on Monday, July 30, 2018. Richards' sentencing for a plea guilty to involuntary manslaughter for the death of Patty Mittauer in an accident on Interstate 80 in January of 2016 was moved to September. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Kaitlyn Richards glances toward her attorney during a hearing originally scheduled as her sentencing at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City on Monday, July 30, 2018. Richards' sentencing for a plea guilty to involuntary manslaughter for the death of Patty Mittauer in an accident on Interstate 80 in January of 2016 was moved to September. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Family members of Patty Mittauer, 54, who was killed in a 2016 traffic crash, showed up in court Monday with large photos of the beloved wife, mother and retired U.S. Navy nurse for the sentencing of the woman who caused the fatality.

They lined up outside a Johnson County courtroom, waiting for defendant Kaityln Richards, 22 of Cedar Rapids, to exit so they could show her who was killed Jan. 24, 2016 when Richards, while texting and speeding, rear-ended Mittauer’s vehicle, forcing it to cross two lanes and collide with a semi.

But as Richards and her relatives left, court personnel stopped the Mittauer family from holding up the photos, telling them it would create only more tension in an already emotional situation.

Over the weekend, 6th Judicial District Judge Lars Anderson told the prosecution and defense he would not be bound by a plea deal that would have given Richards probation and a deferred judgment — and no jail time in the fatal crash.

The Mittauer family said they found out Sunday from Assistant Johnson County Attorney Jude Pannell that the judge wouldn’t approve the deal that had been reached with Richards despite their opposition.

During the hearing, Richards said she wanted to go forward with sentencing without the agreement, but Anderson said he would order a presentencing investigation report to be prepared by probation officials — a normal sentencing procedure — and reset the sentencing hearing to Sept. 25.

Anderson explained to Richards, who pleaded guilty in April to involuntary manslaughter, an aggravated misdemeanor, that she faces up to two years in jail. It would it would be up to his discretion, he said, to give her the two years or a lesser sentence, but he wanted a recommendation first. The probation officials will look at details of the case, as well as Richards’ life, criminal history and background.

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Richards originally was charged with homicide by vehicle and reckless driving, which carries a five-year prison sentence.

Pannell declined to explain the deal in April when Richards made her written plea. But Pannell said the evidence showed this was a case of involuntary manslaughter.

Patty’s husband, Mark Mittauer, and two of their children, Dylan, 17 at the time, and Ellie, then 14, both passengers in the back seat, received minor injuries, Mark told The Gazette last week during an interview. Patty, from Swisher, was driving. Mark said he watched as his wife of 24 years took her last breaths.

The plea agreement that Judge Anderson rejected would have allowed Richards to receive a deferred judgment and one year of supervised probation. With a deferred judgment, her record wouldn’t show the conviction if she didn’t have any serious violations after a year.

Mark Mittauer, Patty’s sister, Mary Johnson and brothers Jim and John Butler, told The Gazette last week that the prosecutor hadn’t consulted them about the details of the plea. The family said they were led to believe Richards would receive jail time in whatever plea deal was reached.

They felt as if the justice system failed them.

They also were concerned about Richards’ other convictions after the fatal crash, and questioned why she would receive such a lesser penalty now.

Richards was convicted twice — April 10, 2016, and May 13, 2016 — of operating under the influence. In each case, she received 60 days in jail, a deferred judgment and one year of probation.

The immediate Mittauer family declined to comment after Monday’s hearing. Several members of the family planned to read victim impact statements during the sentencing, which they likely now will do in September.

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Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness also declined to talk about the plea, saying she couldn’t comment on a pending case.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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