Little punishment in Iowa when distracted drivers kill cyclists


(Video link)

People who think the justice system doesn’t take the death of pedestrians at the hands of distracted drivers seriously enough have another piece of evidence to support their claim.

Courtney Lynn Johnson, 24, told authorities she was texting and driving when she mowed down Grace Harken, 21, who was riding her bike in Osage, Iowa (just over the border a bit from Austin, Minn.).

Last month she pleaded guilty to some of the charges.

And today she found out she won’t be going to jail, she’ll only have to pay a $1,000 fine, and she can have her driver’s license back in six months.

It continues a pattern noted by the Des Moines Register on these sorts of cases. Drivers who kill bicyclists in Iowa rarely pay much of a price.

Twenty-five bicyclists have died in collisions with cars in Iowa since 2011, according to the newspaper. One person served time.

Iowa does not have a negligent homicide statute, and the Iowa legislature couldn’t even muster enough support in its last session to pass a law that would encourage cars to pass safely around bicycles.

Aaron Murphy, assistant Mitchell County Attorney, had assumed that texting while driving would be considered reckless driving. But when he researched the law he found that unless drivers are drunk, high, drag racing or fleeing from police, their behavior isn’t legally considered reckless, the Register reported.

“Even if I wanted to charge her with a reckless crime, I don’t think, under facts that exist, I could prove it,” Murphy said.

Nearly a year ago, Darrel Harken and his other daughter, Hannah, were driving on the highway when they had to slow down because of an accident up ahead. They stopped to see if they could help.

And that’s when they saw Grace.