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Idaho man sentenced for deadly crash that killed motorcyclist

Joseph R. Bitner, 26, of Athol, pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Credit: CDA Press

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — A man who pleaded guilty to causing a deadly crash in 2018 will spend up to a decade behind bars, as reported by KREM 2 News partner the Coeur d'Alene/Post Falls Press.

Joseph R. Bitner, 26, of Athol, pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

First District Judge Lansing Haynes sentenced Bitner last week to 10 years in prison, with five years fixed and five years suspended.

Haynes opted to retain jurisdiction in the case.

That means Bitner will spend up to a year in a prison treatment program, called a rider, before Haynes decides to release him on probation or send him back to prison.

The charge stems from July 2018.

Idaho State Police said Jesse Villa, 68, of Torrence, Calif., was traveling west on Highway 53 when Bitner’s truck hit his motorcycle.

Bitner was reportedly approaching in the eastbound lane and attempted to turn north onto Ramsey Road, where he collided with Villa.

He told police he saw Villa’s motorcycle but did not yield because he thought he could safely make the turn.

Villa was thrown from the motorcycle and died due to his injuries, police said.

Prosecutors filed charges against Bitner in March 2019.

Bitner pleaded guilty in September.

Villa’s family addressed the court before Haynes handed down the sentence, describing Villa as a hard worker and a family man who loved his children and grandchildren.

He was a musician and a construction worker who raised four children and retired at age 64.

“Everywhere he went, people loved him,” said Suzanne Villa, Joseph Villa’s wife of 37 years. “I miss him a lot.”

After his father’s death, Jessie Villa said he’s had to step in as the patriarch of the family. His dad was his best friend and mentor.

He said he used to feel anger toward Bitner.

“Now I feel sorry for him and his parents who enabled him,” he said.

In court, Bitner asked Villa’s family for forgiveness.

“I hope that from here on, the healing process can begin,” he said.

In 2015, Bitner was convicted of driving under the influence, a misdemeanor, after he reportedly crashed into a Coeur d’Alene house while drunk.

He was granted a withheld judgment in the DUI case.

Bitner must pay about $5,100 in restitution to Villa’s family.

Upon his release from prison, Bitner’s driver’s license will be suspended for three years.

Since 2018, Bitner has been charged with multiple drug-related crimes, including felony possession of meth and heroin.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of a controlled substance, for which Haynes sentenced him to seven years in prison, with five years fixed and two indeterminate.

The sentences are to be served concurrently with Bitner’s vehicular manslaughter sentence.

“Now the time has come for you to throw your heart and soul into (the rider program),” Haynes told Bitner. “You can now start to act in a way that honors Mr. Villa’s memory.”

The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.