Public Safety

Grieving family angry over plea in fatal texting while driving crash

Sunday update: Family told plea may not go forward for Kaitlyn Richards

John Butler of Tiffin (from left), Mark Mittauer of Swisher and Mary Johnson of Atalissa are photographed July 23 in Tiffin. Patricia Mittauer was killed Jan. 24, 2016, by a driver who was texting and speeding, records show. Mark Mittauer is her husband. Two of her siblings are Mary Johnson and John Butler. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
John Butler of Tiffin (from left), Mark Mittauer of Swisher and Mary Johnson of Atalissa are photographed July 23 in Tiffin. Patricia Mittauer was killed Jan. 24, 2016, by a driver who was texting and speeding, records show. Mark Mittauer is her husband. Two of her siblings are Mary Johnson and John Butler. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
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TIFFIN — Mark Mittauer is “beyond angry” that the woman ultimately responsible for his wife’s death wasn’t going to face jail time and could even have her record cleared if she successfully completed probation.

Mittauer said he watched his wife, Patty, 54, take her last breaths after Kaitlyn Richards, 22, of Cedar Rapids, rear ended their vehicle on Jan. 24, 2016, forcing it into another lane and colliding with a semi on Interstate 80 near Coralville.

Richards was both speeding and texting before the fatal crash, records show.

“Patty wouldn’t want us moping around … She would kick our butts. Patty had a great sense of humor. Her laugh got us all going.”

- Mark Mittauer

Patty's husband

“Patty was driving that day because she said I was too pokey,” Mittauer, 62, of Swisher, said last week.

The couple and their children were on their way that day to a birthday lunch for him. He and two of their children, Dylan, 17 at the time, and Ellie, 14, both passengers in the back seat, received minor injuries. Dylan had to climb out the window to get his sister out.

“There was blood everywhere and shattered glass,” Mittauer, shaking his head, said as if he still couldn’t believe it. “It was horrible.”

Mittauer and three of Patty’s siblings, John Butler of Tiffin, Mary Johnson of Atalissa and Jim Butler of Lancaster, Penn., talked with a reporter at Butler’s home last week about their disappointment and anger over a plea agreement for Richards, of which they say the Johnson County Attorney’s Office never provided them details as promised.

Richards, originally charged with homicide by vehicle and reckless driving, which carries a five-year prison sentence, instead pleaded to involuntary manslaughter, an aggravated misdemeanor.

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She faced two years in jail but the plea agreement will allow her to receive a deferred judgment and one-year supervised probation at sentencing Monday in Johnson County District Court.

If she doesn’t have any serious violations, she would be discharged and her record wouldn’t show the conviction.

On Sunday, however, the Mittauer family was contacted by the Johnson County Attorney’s Office and told that the sentencing judge has decided not to accept the plea agreement, so the sentencing could be canceled or postponed.

This could mean Richards would go ahead to sentencing without a plea and it will be up to the discretion of the judge or she could withdraw her guilty plea and go forward to trial.

Over the last two years, the Mittauer family was led to believe by prosecutors that Richards would receive jail time in whatever plea deal was made.

“It’s disappointing that we didn’t even know about it and had to find out on our own,” said Jim Butler, Patty’s brother, who called in from his Pennsylvania home to participate in the interview. “They said they would consult us. It’s unprofessional. The justice system failed us.”

The family said they didn’t know a plea had been made until April, and didn’t learn the details until reading about it in The Gazette.

Assistant Johnson County Attorney Jude Pannell said in May, when Richards made her written plea, that he had consulted the family.

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He wouldn’t explain why the plea was made, only that the evidence showed this was involuntary manslaughter.

According to Iowa law, involuntary manslaughter is when a person unintentionally causes the death of another person by acting in a manner — such as driving recklessly — that is likely to cause death or serious injury.

The siblings said they would rather see this case go to trial than end with this resolution.

Johnson, Patty’s sister, said she is “scared” Richards will do this to someone else, in light of her driving record.

“We just want her to be stopped,” John Butler, Patty’s other brother, said.

Richards was convicted twice of operating under the influence in incidents that happened after the fatal crash, while she was on pretrial release.

Richards was cited April 10, 2016, for speeding. Court records show she had a .15 percent blood alcohol content, above the legal limit for driving in Iowa of .08 percent. She was convicted and sentenced to 60 days in jail.

On May 13, 2016, Iowa City police responded to a 911 hangup call and discovered Richards in a running car. She admitted to smoking marijuana, and police found 30.3 grams of marijuana in her purse. She received a deferred judgment and one year self-supervised probation for the possession of a controlled substance — marijuana.

Mittauer said he wasn’t going to let Richards’ actions ruin the rest of his family’s lives.

His children, Conor, 24, Eric, 22, Dylan, now 19, and Ellie, now 16, are not angry now. He said they are trying to move on without a mother.

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He would like to see Richards do something valuable with her life — such as community service by talking to schoolchildren about the dangers of texting or using a cellphone while driving.

Mittauer pointed out a wristband that Johnson was wearing. “What would Patty do?” it said. Conor, who is in a U.S. Navy flight school, made it after her death.

“Patty wouldn’t want us moping around … She would kick our butts,” Mittauer said as he started to smile. “Patty had a great sense of humor. Her laugh got us all going.”

Nicci Butler, John’s wife, said Patty a few days before her death said she was thankful for her life and that she was in “happy place and at peace.”

Mittauer said he had a wonderful marriage with Patty for 24 years. They met while both were in the Navy. Patty served eight years, including four years in the reserve. Patty left service before Desert Storm, and Mittauer served 26 years and discharged as a captain.

He said he couldn’t have gotten through this without relatives and friends.

“It has taken 20 people to replace Patty,” John Butler said.

Patty’s siblings said she was an “amazing” person who was generous to a fault. She was a strong Catholic and “fantastic” mother and dedicated home health nurse.

“I will never stop grieving,” Johnson, who teared up during the interview, said. “We were kind of part of each other.”

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

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