A Maquoketa man pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of homicide by vehicle in the October 2018 car accident in which a passenger in his vehicle died.
Andy Lee Ahrens, 22, likely will not face jail time but would be expected to pay $150,000 in restitution plus surcharges and fees, according to a plea agreement to which he consented. His driver’s license would be suspended for one year, and he must complete a substance abuse evaluation and follow through with recommended treatment.
He will be sentenced at 9 a.m. May 29.
Ahrens appeared in person at his plea proceeding Friday morning in the Jackson County Courthouse. He said little during the 15-minute proceeding, answering “yes” or “no” as District Court Judge Patrick McElyea explained the charges, the trial process, and other rights Ahrens was giving up by taking the plea agreement.
Ahrens almost inaudibly provided a three-sentence synopsis of the events of Oct. 7, 2018.
“I had a few drinks,” Ahrens told the judge. “I was traveling home in Jackson County when I lost control of the car, drove off the road, and hit a tree. And my passenger wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and unintentionally passed away.”
Ahrens said “yes,” his drinking did impair his ability to drive appropriately.
About 11 months after the accident, he was charged with homicide by vehicle, operating under the influence. The charge stems from an afternoon accident about 4 miles south of Bellevue on Highway 52.
Ahrens and a passenger, Alex Robert Behr, 20, of Sabula, were traveling north on Highway 52 when the Jeep Cherokee Ahrens was driving left the road, struck a tree head-on, and started burning.
Behr was partially ejected through the front windshield and died at the scene.
At the accident site, Ahrens admitted to law enforcement that he lost control of the vehicle, went into the ditch, and was drinking before driving, according to the search warrant.
Ahrens consented to a breath test at 12:46 p.m. Oct. 7; that sample tested at 0.249, according to the accident report and search warrant.
District Court Judge Mark D. Cleve issued a warrant for Ahrens’ arrest on Aug. 30, 2019. Ahrens turned himself in Sept. 19, was released, and pleaded not guilty. His jury trial was scheduled for March 9 until he agreed to the plea deal.
By pleading guilty, Ahrens cannot seek a direct appeal. To repeal his guilty plea, he would have to file an application with the Appellate Court and receive the court’s permission. Susan Hess of Hammer Law Firm P.L.C. was hired to defend Ahrens.
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case after Jackson County Attorney Sara Davenport requested that she be recused “due to a conflict of interest,” according to court documents.