Questions arise from delay in releasing details of McCaffery crash

Iowa City police have identified the teenage son of University of Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery as the driver who was involved in a fatal traffic accident in late May. Police had refused for a month and a half to release details about the accident. Officials still have not provided a narrative of the sequence of events that led to the accident.

The delay in naming the driver led to questions why this crash was handled differently from the scores of traffic accidents that occur every day in Iowa, when the names of the parties involved and a description of the events is routinely made public by the Iowa State Patrol, police departments and sheriff’s offices in all 99 Iowa counties.

Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said keeping the identity of the Iowa City driver confidential resulted in speculation in the community that the case received special treatment because the teen is a member of a prominent Iowa family.

Evans also said the Iowa FOI Council believes Iowa law requires law officers like those in Iowa City to make public the “immediate facts and circumstances” about traffic accidents, crimes and other incidents police are summoned to. The only exceptions in the law, he said, are in those unusual circumstances where disclosure would seriously jeopardize an investigation or pose a clear danger to the safety of an individual — neither of which was a factor in this case.

Here is the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s report today on a misdemeanor charge being filed against the teen:

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A North Liberty teenager was cited Monday for a traffic violation in a crash at the intersection of Melrose Avenue and Kennedy Parkway in Iowa City, which resulted in the death of an Iowa National Guard soldier who was out for a jog on May 22.

Iowa City Police identified Jonathan J.F. McCaffery, 16, of North Liberty, as the driver of a 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe that struck Corey Hite, 45, of Cedar Rapids at 4:16 p.m. on May 22. McCaffery, who goes by the name Jack, is the son of the University of Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery.

Following a “thorough investigation, and after consultation with the Johnson County Attorney’s Office,” the teen was cited Monday with failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, a simple misdemeanor.

Under Iowa law, there is an enhancement for this misdemeanor when it results in a death, which includes a $1,000 fine, a driver’s license suspension of up to 180 days, or both, police said.

Johnson County Attorney Rachel Zimmermann Smith said this is a pending case and she couldn’t talk about the facts of the case.

In a statement distributed Wednesday by an Iowa City law firm, Fran and Margaret McCaffery — Jonathan McCaffery’s parents — called the crash, which happened just after their son left school, a “tragedy” that has “devastated” their family.

“Investigators have told us that it was an unavoidable accident with no evidence to suggest distracted driving,” the McCafferys’ statement says. “The pedestrian, who was jogging at the time of the accident, was waved in front of our son’s passing vehicle by the driver of another vehicle.”

The McCafferys’ statement says they refrained from releasing a statement before this week out of respect for the Hite family and “to allow the Iowa City Police Department to conclude its investigation.”

Jonathan McCaffery signed a promise to appear Monday and paid a $288 unsecured bond, according to the citation. He has a court date of July 24, if he chooses to appear to dispute the charge. If he doesn’t appear, the court is authorized to enter a conviction and judgment against him, the citation states.

In response to a question about why it took nearly two months to charge the 16-year-old, police, in a statement, said “It is our duty and responsibility to conduct thorough investigations and thorough investigations — particularly those involving a death — take time. We do not identify those involved in an investigation unless that person has been charged.”

Police previously wouldn’t identify the driver. The Gazette had requested a recording of the 911 call related to the crash, but the request was denied shortly after the crash and it was denied again Wednesday. Police, in the statement, said all other information related to this case is confidential under Iowa law.

Hite was three weeks from retirement with the National Guard when he died nearly two weeks after the crash.

According to a GoFundMe page, Hite was out for a jog when he was hit. He had remained in the hospital since the crash with serious injuries including a pelvis fracture, multiple skull fractures, holes in his lung and kidney and brain swelling. The fundraiser was started on behalf of his family and had raised $8,287 as of Wednesday.

According to information posted on behalf of Hite’s family to a CaringBridge site, during his hospital stay, the family learned Hite’s brain injuries affected parts of his brain that regulate basic life functions, and so it seemed unlikely he would be able to return to normal life, the site states.

“After much discussion, reflection, and prayer, the family made the very difficult decision to remove all lifesaving interventions that are keeping Corey alive,” the site states.

Hite was moved to a hospice care unit closer to his family until he died June 4.