AMES, Iowa — An Iowa State University bus driver entered a guilty plea to a single misdemeanor charge in the case of an 18-year-old student who was struck and killed on a rainy December 2015 morning. The driver faces no more than 30 days in jail.
The Story County Attorney's Office and the attorney for the driver, 23-year-old Benjamin D. Clague, reached an agreement today. The case had been scheduled to go to trial Tuesday.
The incident happened on Dec. 14 last year as freshman student Emmalee Jacobs of Urbana, Iowa, was walking to class for a finals test before the semester break. An ISU police officer found Jacobs, lying in the crosswalk only minutes after she was struck, but an extensive investigation uncovered no eyewitnesses.
Clague was arrested Jan. 20 after a supervisor reviewed bus video in which Clague reportedly made a left turn against a flashing yield arrow. Police contend that is the moment the bus struck Jacobs. Video reportedly showed Clague stopping the bus after incident to check for damage before continuing on his route.
The agreement for Clague to plead guilty to a single count — failure to report an accident — came after Story County District Court Judge Steve Van Marel ruled last Thursday that prosecutors had the burden to prove Clague knew that he struck Jacobs. Van Marel also denied a request by the county attorney's office to continue the trial to a later date.
The amended charge resulted in prosecutors agreeing to drop a charge of failure to obey a traffic control device and one felony count of leaving the scene of a personal injury accident.
Assistant County Attorney Jessica Reynolds told School Transportation News that the felony statute's requirement that the defendant knew he struck Jacobs created an insurmountable hurdle for prosecutors.
"It's almost impossible to prove what someone was thinking. That's why the ruling was so problematic. The statute itself is extremely confusing," Reynolds said. "Legislative clarification is absolutely needed. There does need to be a legislative fix so that the law is construed the way the legislature intended it."
Clague will be sentenced Friday. In addition to a maximum 30-day sentence, he faces a maximum $100 fine, court costs and a 35-percent surcharge.
Reynolds noted that plea agreement negotiations began after the judge's ruling.
"It was the maximum sentence we could seek under the law and the defendant agreed to the maximum amount of time. We were in constant communication with the victim's family during the plea agreement time period, which was over the weekend," Reynolds said. "Obviously, they are heartbroken. Our hearts go out to them; they are a wonderful family."
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