Jordan Heston, 20, of Fort Madison was scheduled to go on trial this week for his role in a single vehicle crash in rural Lee County on December 2, 2016 that left one person dead and another severely injured. But the trial was put on hold after Heston accepted a plea agreement.
Heston agreed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, which is a class D felony that carries a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in prison. In exchange for his guilty plea, additional charges of vehicular homicide and serious injury by vehicle will be dropped.
Heston’s sentencing is scheduled for May 4, 2018. The plea agreement calls for his attorney -- Curtis Dial -- and Lee County Attorney Ross Braden to each ask the court for a deferred judgment for Heston.
If the court grants the deferred judgment, Heston would be sentenced to 5 years of probation instead of prison time. If he meets the terms of his probation, his record could be expunged.
If the court rejects the deferred judgment request, Heston could withdraw his guilty plea and his case would go back to trial.
Dial said that he is not aware of anything that would prohibit his client from receiving a deferred judgment.
In an email to Tri States Public Radio, Braden described the case as a terrible situation.
“There was no malicious intent on Heston’s part, they were all 18-19 at the time and were out doing something stupid (hill-hopping on ‘rollercoaster road.’)” said Braden. “I don’t think a judge would have been inclined to sentence Heston to prison under these facts and circumstances, even if I were to argue for it.”
“[Heston will] have to live with what he did for the rest of his life.”
Dec. 2, 2016
Court records state that Heston was driving a 2001 Oldsmobile Aurora on 163rd Street near 345th Avenue at 1:46 a.m. on December 2, 2016. Chandler Berry, 18, and an unidentified 17-year-old male were in the vehicle with him.
“This crash occurred when Jordan Heston crested a hill at a high rate of speed,” per the criminal complaint filed by the Iowa State Patrol. “After cresting the hill, Heston lost control of his vehicle and it began to slide. The vehicle crossed the roadway and entered the north ditch. In the ditch, the vehicle struck a pair of cedar trees, severing both tree trunks and uprooting one. The vehicle crossed through a fence and came to rest on its side in a pasture.”
The crash killed Berry, who was riding in the front seat. The rear seat passenger sustained multiple fractures and injuries to his spinal cord.
“Roadway evidence and vehicular data indicate Heston’s vehicle was traveling more than 25 m.p.h. over the 50 m.p.h. speed limit at the time of the crash,” per the ISP report. “Jordan Heston admitted that he had been on this road before and acknowledged that the road is known as ‘roller coaster road’ due to the rolling hills at that location. Heston also stated that he was not very experienced driving on gravel roads.”
Part of the plea agreement requires Heston to pay $150,000 to Berry’s estate and to pay medical expenses for the other passenger in the vehicle.