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After more than two years of delays, Judge Andrea Dryer accepted a plea agreement from Chris Soules, sentencing him to a suspended prison sentence of two years and two years of probation for his role in a 2017 traffic crash that killed a northeast Iowa man.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors agreed to the sentence in court documents on Friday, but Dryers order officially ends the years long case. Soules, a former star of ABC's “The Bachelor,” will also pay the minimum fine of $625 plus applicable court costs.
Soules, the former “Bachelor,” pleaded guilty earlier this year to leaving the scene of a personal injury accident. An aggravated misdemeanor, the charge carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
Soules and his parents, Gary and Linda, previously paid $2.5 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Kenneth Mosher, 66, of Aurora, who was killed when Soules’ truck rear-ended his tractor.
The settlement, which was approved within three days of its January filing, headed off any civil litigation about the culpability of the Soules family and their insurer, Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, in Mosher's death.
Mosher, a farmer and retired factory worker, died at about 8:20 p.m. on April 24, 2017. The tractor, which didn’t have an enclosed cab, rolled into a ditch near the road.
Soules administered CPR on the scene, called 911, identified himself as the driver of the car and waited for the paramedics to arrive. But he left the scene before providing a statement to the police, which prosecutors maintained was a violation of Iowa law.
Originally charged with leaving the scene of a deadly accident, a felony that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, Soules avoided trial by pleading guilty last year to the lesser charge.
Both the defense attorneys and the prosecutors declined to comment on settlement Friday.
Nancy Mosher, Kenneth's wife, couldn't be reached for comment.
While he had not had the opportunity to read through all of the court documents, Robert Rigg, director of the criminal defense program at Drake University, called the sentence “reasonable.”
“Most folks in Iowa, they kind of resent folks who have that much publicity, so there’s this automatic assumption that they’re getting something they don’t deserve,” he said. “In fact, if you look at the facts of the case and look at the potential sentencing, it’s a reasonable situation and a reasonable plea.”
Victim statements blame Soules
In a packed courtroom in May, where suits mingled with overalls in equal measure, the case known for diving into the legal weeds once again turned on specific Iowa code wording and constitutional arguments.
Soules’ lawyers successfully blocked the family’s victim impact statements from being entered into the record or used in a presentence investigation report. They argued that because Soules' conviction for leaving the scene of a personal injury accident did not involve the crash itself, Mosher's relatives were not "victims" in a legal sense.
Iowa law permits victim impact statements for immediate family members of victims who die as a result of a crime. But Soules pleaded guilty to a charge related only to his actions after the crash — actions that themselves did not result in Mosher's death.
At issue were three statements: one by Kenneth Mosher's wife, Nancy Mosher, and one from each of her sons.
Robert Montgomery, one of Soules’ lawyers, said the sealed statements “make assertions of fact and then assertions of fault based on those facts.”
“All three of them inherently are inextricably premised upon the faulty premise that the death of their husband or their father was the fault of Mr. Soules," Montgomery said. "All three of them inextricably, inherently entwine in that (faulty premise) and urge the maximum punishment.”
Montgomery later said that at least one of the letters characterized the crash as an “avoidable incident.”
The state countered that Soules’ leaving the scene did “directly cause emotional harm for the Mosher family.”
“By leaving and not returning, Soules deprived them of answers about Mr. Mosher’s death,” Buchanan County attorney Shawn Harden said.
Sitting in the row behind the prosecutors, Mosher’s two sons nodded their heads in agreement during Harden’s arguments. One of his sons clutched a printed piece of paper, presumably the impact statement he had prepared to read.
In making her decision to strike the statements, Dryer said that while reasonable people may see the Moshers as victims, the law defines a victim in this case only as “someone who suffers harm or suffers hurt as a result of the April 2017 crash."
"The individuals who submitted those statements, as I've said, my heart goes out to them," Dryer said.
“I don’t have any question the extent to which they have suffered,” she added. "But that is not the test."
When the final ruling was announced, a member of the Mosher family let out a sigh and whispered, “Are you kidding me?”
The dusk collision that killed Mosher set off years of high-profile court proceedings, many of which centered on arguments by Soules' lawyers that the Iowa law he was charged with breaking was unconstitutional.
The prosecution, led by Harden and Iowa Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown, said Soules violated an Iowa law that requires a driver involved in a fatal crash to remain "at the scene of the accident except to seek necessary aid or to report the accident to law enforcement authorities."
If the driver leaves the scene to report the crash or seek aid, the law continues, he or she shall "immediately return to the scene of the accident or inform the law enforcement authorities where the surviving driver can be located."
The obligation to remain at the scene or report one’s whereabouts amounts to self-incrimination, defense attorneys argued, infringing on Soules' right to be free from unreasonable seizures, which is protected by the Fourth Amendment, and his right to due process, protected by the 14th Amendment.
Defense attorneys also argued that Soules satisfied the intent of the law by calling 911, identifying himself and tending to Mosher’s medical needs.
Soules administered CPR until the compressions caused blood to come from Mosher's mouth, court documents said. He remained on scene until paramedics arrived and directed them to Mosher. He left several minutes later.
Mosher was taken to a local hospital, where he later died.
Dryer sided with the prosecution, saying the law was clear and did not violate any constitutional rights.
“All surviving drivers involved in an accident causing the death of a person must remain at the accident scene until law enforcement authorities have responded to the required immediate accident report, arrived at the accident scene, and had the opportunity to see the surviving drivers,” she wrote.
'An unavoidable accident'
In the plea agreement that followed his unsuccessful appeal, Soules acknowledged he failed to provide his vehicle's registration number to 911 dispatch or law enforcement, as required by Iowa law.
But in court documents filed last year, Soules' attorneys seemed to be questioning other portions of the investigation.
Neither Soules nor an independent witness to the crash saw any lights on Mosher's tractor before the collision, said Brandon Brown, one of Soules' lawyers. By law, the tractor would have been required to display flashing amber lights, the affidavit stated.
Soules was later diagnosed with a concussion resulting from the crash, Brown said. Even though his airbag deployed, it "did not prevent Mr. Soules from hitting his head on the windshield so hard that it shattered."
Mosher was driving as slow as 6 mph, Brown's affidavit states. Soules was driving his truck below the posted 55 mph speed limit, and Brown said experts concluded Soules acted reasonably given the circumstances.
"Mr. Soules found himself in an unavoidable accident," Brown's affidavit stated.
Soules appeared on "The Bachelor" in 2015, where his roots as a farmer in rural Arlington, Iowa, played a prominent role and earned him the nickname "Prince Farming." He went on to appear on Season 20 of “Dancing With the Stars” and a season of “Worst Chefs in America: Celebrity Edition.”
He rejoined social media a year after the crash, but has mostly stayed out of the limelight.
Throughout the lengthy court proceedings and investigations, the Moshers have declined to comment.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Ex-'Bachelor' Chris Soules gets 2 years probation for fatal crash