A Natrona County judge on Thursday afternoon sentenced a Lusk man to probation for his part in a 2017 wreck that killed two tourists.
Alexander Richardson had faced a maximum sentence of two years incarceration after a jury in February found him guilty on two counts of misdemeanor homicide by vehicle. Judge Kerri Johnson, however, cited Richardson’s remorse and his minimal criminal history in deciding to issue the probationary stint.
The terms of the ruling call for Richardson to serve two probationary sentences of a year each with a year of jail time suspended on each. If Richardson fails to complete his probation, prosecutors could ask Johnson to impose the jail time. The two sentences will run one after another.
Johnson also ordered Richardson to serve 100 hours of community service over the first 10 months of his probation. The judge said he should offer to speak to high school students about the dangers of fatigued driving and, if school administrators accept, he can use that time toward his community service requirement. Richardson should also write the Wyoming Highway Patrol and his employer to make a similar offer, Johnson said.
Although the case dates back nearly two years, the Natrona County District Attorney’s Office did not charge Richardson until about eight months after the wreck on Wyoming Highway 220 near Independence Rock that killed Soon Young Lee, 46, and Jaehyeok Seo, 3, both of South Korea. When prosecutors did file charges, they brought two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and a single count of aggravated assault, which related to injuries sustained by Lee’s husband, who was riding in the front passenger seat of the tourists’ rental SUV at the time of the crash.
Convictions on all three felony counts could have been punished by up to 50 years imprisonment. Richardson went to trial, where prosecutors called about a dozen witnesses and the defendant brought his own crash reconstructionist to counter an investigator called by the assistant district attorneys trying the case. Assistant District Attorneys Ava Bell and Mike Schafer argued that Richardson did not sleep after a long shift at a Utah oilfield and dozed off on the road, leading to the fatal crash.
Defense attorney Don Fuller argued the prosecutors’ theory of drowsiness as a result of driving directly home conflicted with Richardson’s actual time on the road. The lawyer conceded responsibility for the wreck but said Richardson’s actions did not rise to the recklessness required for conviction on the felonies.
Jurors agreed after two hours of deliberation, during which they found Richardson guilty of the lesser counts. The misdemeanor charges are identical to the felony homicide counts but for one element — a finding of criminal negligence rather than recklessness. Richardson remained free on bond for the nearly six months between conviction and sentencing.
At Thursday’s sentencing hearing, Bell gave a brief sentencing argument, during which she asked for two years of incarceration. The prosecutor referenced a letter written by Bong Jun Seo, who is Lee’s husband and Seo’s father. Although Seo survived the wreck with physical injuries, he has also suffered mental anguish since losing his family, Bell said. Seo wrote that he has mourned the short life of his son and contemplated suicide since the wreck, the prosecutor said.
“I lost it all in just seconds,” Bell said the letter states.
The prosecutor said a civil case is being handled by private attorneys. Frank Chapman, whose law partner Thomas Valdez attended the trial, sat in the audience at sentencing. Chapman left shortly before Johnson adjourned the hearing.
Once Bell concluded her five-minute argument, Fuller asked the judge for probation. The defense lawyer said his client’s family is dependent on employer-provided health insurance the family would lose if Richardson were incarcerated. He again disputed evidence of Richardson driving on lack of sleep, and argued the jury’s verdict indicated it was unsure on the point.
“He’s not a bad person,” Fuller said. “And he’s not a felon.”
Chapman said by phone later Thursday afternoon that his firm represents Seo and has nearly finalized a settlement in connection with the fatal wreck.