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Family Not Happy With Plea Agreement

Last updated on Friday, July 13, 2012

(WASHINGTON) - Family members of Rhett Smith, who was killed last year in a hit-and-run incident on West National Highway, are unhappy with a plea agreement offered to the driver of the vehicle that struck the teenager.

Andrea McCann, of the Washington Times-Herald reports, Racheal Riester, 33, of Washington, initially faced 11 felony counts and two misdemeanors in the incident: two counts of causing death when operating a motor vehicle with a schedule I or II controlled substance in the blood and failure to stop after an accident resulting in serious bodily injury, Class B felonies; three counts of causing death when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, failure to stop after an accident resulting in death, criminal recklessness resulting in serious bodily injury, and reckless homicide, all Class C felonies; two counts of causing serious bodily injury when operating a motor vehicle with a schedule I or II substance in body, Class D felonies; and reckless driving and false informing, both Class B misdemeanors.

A plea agreement, if accepted by the judge, would whittle those charges down to one each of causing death when operating a vehicle with a Schedule I or II controlled substance in blood and failure to stop after an accident resulting in death. Both are Class C felonies, which carry a sentence of two to eight years and up to $10,000 fines. The sentences would be served concurrently.

"They shouldn't be concurrent," said Rhett's uncle, Doug Smith, who believes the legal system has let the family down.

The family would like Riester to have plenty of time in prison to learn job skills and be rehabilitated.

"A plea bargain shouldn't be allowed if serious injury or death is involved," said Elizabeth Barker, Rhett's grandmother, who thinks that might make people reconsider drinking or taking drugs and then getting behind the wheel.

She also thinks a victim's family should be included in the plea process from the beginning.

Rhett's family is haunted by the condition of his body after it was thrown into the air and dragged by the vehicle Riester was driving. The most upsetting part of that, according to his aunt, Amber Peters, is that Riester left the 17-year-old lying in the street.

"The whole point is what she did after she hit him," Peters said, stressing that Riester allegedly ran from the scene and lied about her involvement, never stopping to see if Rhett needed help.

Smith added: "She's never even stood up and apologized. She's never once apologized."

According to the probable cause affidavit in the case, Riester struck Rhett as he attempted to cross West National Highway near Swifty's just after 11:30 p.m. on July 23, 2011. She left the scene, ditched the 1994 Oldsmobile she was driving, then had her boyfriend report the car stolen.

Initially, Riester denied driving the car at the time of the accident and told officers her sister sometimes borrowed it. But a witness placed her sister at Walmart at the time of the incident, and eventually Riester's boyfriend admitted Riester had been out in the car.

A blood test on Riester came back positive for benzodiazapines -- a family of depressants -- and methamphetamine. She told Washington Police Chief Mike Healy, then the detective on the case, she did the meth the day before the accident and had smoked marijuana after the accident.

She also told Healy she'd been on her cell phone when she struck Smith and that she'd been doing about 60 mph.

At her plea hearing Tuesday morning in Daviess County Superior Court, Riester pleaded guilty to the two counts, and Judge Dean A. Sobecki advised her of her rights and ensured she understood the plea process.

A sentencing hearing was set for 2:30 p.m. Aug. 30, at which time both Riester and the prosecution will present witnesses, Riester will be able to make a statement if she so chooses, and a victim's representative can make a statement. Until then, Riester was remanded to the Daviess County Sheriff's Department, where she's being held at the security center on $750,000 bond.

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