***WARNING: This story contains graphic details and a graphic photo not suitable for all readers***
STEUBEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – An Ohio woman who admitted her role in a hit-and-run that killed an Angola teen walking along the road and left another boy seriously injured now faces between roughly 2 and 14 1/2 years in prison.
That’s according to a deal 46-year-old Hope A. Richmond made with Steuben County prosecutors this week where she agreed to plead guilty to three felony charges connected to the crash last year.
The crash, which happened on Oct. 1 in the 1500 block of County Road 275 North in rural Pleasant Township, killed 13-year-old Wayden Bennett.
Bennett’s friend, the then 12-year-old Ryly Cummings, survived the crash but suffered a head laceration in which staples were required to close the wound.
Richmond agreed to plead guilty to the following counts:
- A Level 4 felony count of leaving the scene of a crash resulting in death.
- A Level 6 felony count of leaving the scene of a crash resulting in moderate or serious injury.
- A Level 6 felony count of obstruction of justice.
If a Steuben Circuit Court judge accepts the deal at Richmond’s sentencing in two months, he will decide how many years she will serve for each count as long as the obstruction charge is served concurrently – or at the same time – as the other two.
A Level 4 felony in Indiana carries a term of 2 to 12 years in prison while a Level 6 felony carries a term of 6 months to 2 1/2 years.
Richmond had been driving her Jeep Liberty eastbound on County Road 275 at the time of the crash, which happened at just before 9 p.m. She later told investigators that she had just picked up food at a Mexican restaurant.
Cummings told investigators he and Bennett were walking against traffic after playing baseball at the nearby Lake James Christian Camp. As they got close to the entrance to the parking lot of Mulligan’s Restaurant & Pub, they crossed the road and were walking side by side.
Cummings told police he was in the grass while Bennett was walking on the white line. That’s when Richmond is accused of striking the boys in her Jeep and leaving the scene.
The next thing Cummings knew, he said in Steuben Circuit Court documents, he was in a ditch by the road bleeding with people standing around him. Bennett was taken to a Fort Wayne hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
At the scene, investigators found a piece of paint lying in the middle of the roadway as well as debris that looked to be parts of a vehicle, according to court documents.
Later, a man at an auto repair shop told detectives the parts appeared to go to a side mirror assembly and determined the paint chip went with a scheme used for the silver Jeep Liberty model from 2008 to 2012, court documents said.
In the days following, tips began to flood the Steuben County Sheriff’s Department.
One of those tips led detectives to a home in Fremont that had a silver Jeep Liberty with damage to the hood, passenger side mirror and front parked outside, according to court documents.
Richmond came out of the home to speak with a detective and initially said she struck a deer. Her demeanor changed as the conversation continued, though, and finally she looked down at the ground and said in court documents:
“It was dark, and I did not see them.”
In a later interview, she told detectives in court documents she thought she had hit a trash can. Then Richmond began to see news of the crash spread through local media, and knew that she had hit the boys, court documents said.
Out of fear of what might happen to her, Richmond admitted to trying to conceal her involvement in the crash.
She tried to remove dents from the Jeep and wiped the blood from the vehicle, court documents said. She also tried to remove the broken side mirror. Richmond also said she was not operating while intoxicated or on any drugs at the time of the crash.
Richmond bonded out of Steuben County Jail shortly after her arrest and remained free while her case wound through the legal system.
That’s something that did not sit well with Wayden Bennett’s family.
“We’re sitting here trying to pick up the pieces to our family. We’re going through a Christmas without our son. I don’t think that it’s fair,” Chantel Bennett told WANE 15 back in December. “Every time we go out, I have literally seen people that look similar to her, and he’s [Ron] had to hold me back because I have almost gone straight up to this person thinking that it was her. It wasn’t her, but I feel like I’m constantly looking and watching for her.”
Chantel Bennett also shared a graphic post on her personal Facebook page with details about the injuries suffered by her son before his death. She and her husband, Ron Bennett, also allowed WANE 15 to show photos of their family grieving and saying goodbye to their son.
Since the crash, they have been spearheading a campaign calling for tougher laws and harsher penalties when it comes to hit-and-runs.
“We don’t want to see somebody go through the same thing we’re going through,” Ron Bennett told WANE 15 in December.
Per Richmond’s plea agreement, she’ll have to pay the Bennetts’ restitution as decided by her sentencing judge as well as a fine, which will also be decided on by the judge. Her driver’s license will be suspended – again, for how long will be decided by the presiding judge.
And she will likely get some prison time going by Indiana sentencing guidelines.
But until then, she’ll remain free on bail, until her case finally concludes at her sentencing.
That’s scheduled for July 17.