I9 EXCLUSIVE: Family of woman killed in texting while driving crash angry over plea deal

Published: Jul. 18, 2018 at 5:42 PM CDT
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The family of a woman killed in a texting and driving crash is upset the woman who caused it will likely be avoiding jail time. The family says a plea agreement with the Johnson County attorney lets a killer off the hook.

The crash in January 2016 killed Patricia Mittauer. Mittauer was 54 and lived in Swisher. Police say Kaitlyn Richards of Cedar Rapids, who was 21 at the time, was using her cell phone when she rear-ended Mittauer's SUV on Interstate-80, sending it into the path of a semi.

Mittauer was a veteran, a wife, and a mother of four. I9 found the woman charged in the fatal crash has since faced other charges including dangerous driving offenses which is why Mittauer's family worried the Johnson County Attorney's Office is letting her off too easy.

Mary Johnson, Mittauer's sister, remembers finding out her sister had been killed like it was yesterday.

"My nephew Eric called and said that there had been a really bad accident," said Johnson.

Police say Kaitlyn Richards was speeding, following too close and using her cell phone and caused the crash. She is charged with homicide by vehicle, a charge that carries up to 10 years in prison.

Richards likely won't face any time behind bars in prison. She and her attorneys reached a plea deal in April that was amended last week with the Johnson County Attorney's Office. In the deal, Richards pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and receive one year-probation at a residential correctional facility, where she can leave for work or school. There is no jail time in the agreement. And that despite emails obtained by I9 that show on November 17, 2017 prosecutors told Mittauer's family, "Any plea deal would include incarceration."

"No one in our family wants to ruin her life," said Nicci Butler, Mittauer's sister-in-law. "We do feel there are consequences for your actions, and it does not feel like this punishment fits her crime."

Since the crash, court records show Richards has been arrested on drug charges and two OWIs. Mittauer's family worries, if the plea agreement is approved by the judge at sentencing, Richards could be free to hurt someone else again.

"We're very disappointed with Johnson County," said Johnson. "We don't feel this has been handled well at all."

The crash took place before Iowa implemented harsher laws against texting and driving. I9 obtained an email that prosecutors sent to Mittauer's family defending the plea agreement. It says the punishment was, "one of the harshest penalties that the state has gotten for a pre-2017 texting while driving case..." They added, ""I know it's not enough, and I know you're not pleased. But I also know we made the best case we could and got the best outcome anyone could have."

Richard's sentencing is scheduled to take place later this month.

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness and Richard's council declined to comment on the case citing the ongoing proceedings.