Utah deputy charged with manslaughter in crash that killed BYU student

A Utah County sheriff's deputy was charged Monday with manslaughter. Investigators say he hit and killed a BYU student in March 2021 while speeding to the scene of a SWAT call in his personal vehicle.

A Utah County sheriff's deputy was charged Monday with manslaughter. Investigators say he hit and killed a BYU student in March 2021 while speeding to the scene of a SWAT call in his personal vehicle. (Provo Police Department)

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PROVO — A Utah County sheriff's deputy who prosecutors say was going more than 20 mph over the speed limit in his own vehicle while responding to a SWAT standoff when he crashed into another car, killing a BYU student, was charged Monday with manslaughter.

On March 16, 2021, Joseph Richardson, 52, of Provo, was going 56 mph on 900 East in Provo, when Joseph Spencer, 22, a student at Brigham Young University, started to pull out of a Taco Bell at 433 North. Richardson then increased his speed to nearly 58 mph, according to charging documents, before he hit his brakes at the last second. Richardson's Toyota Tacoma hit the driver's side door of Spencer's Toyota Avalon. Spencer was killed.

"As I was coming down here I saw him start to pull out in front of me. I shouldn't ... I shouldn't have tried to beat him," Richardson told another officer who responded to the crash, according to the charges.

Monday, the Summit County Attorney's Office charged Richardson with manslaughter, a second-degree felony, in 4th District Court. In February, the Utah County Attorney's Office announced it had handed the results of its investigation over to Summit County to determine whether charges should be filed, in order to avoid a conflict of interest.

On March 16, 2021, members of the Utah County Sheriff's SWAT team were called to a house in Pleasant Grove where a man allegedly fired shots at his neighbor and later shot at police. That lead to a tense six-hour standoff which ended after police used an armored vehicle to break through the front door.

Just before 4 p.m., Richardson was responding to the standoff in his own vehicle, which did not have police lights or a siren.

According to investigators who reconstructed the crash, Richardson was traveling 56 mph less than 5 seconds before the crash occurred, the charges state. Just two seconds before hitting Spencer's car, Richardson's speed increased to 57.8 mph. But a little more than a second before impact, Richardon's speed dropped to about 38 mph, the charges state.

Richardson hit his brakes and swerved to the left but could not avoid hitting Spencer, according to charging documents.

The Utah County Sheriff's Office released a brief statement Monday afternoon, stating that Richardson has been on leave since the crash.

"Due to a pending lawsuit, we are not able to say much about this accident. Our deputy, who has been with the Utah County Sheriff's Office for 17 years, has been on leave pending the outcome of this investigation since the accident occurred. This incident is a tragedy for all involved. Our hearts are broken for the loss and pain this accident has caused," Sheriff Mike Smith stated.

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt also issued a brief statement Monday, thanking Summit County for their work.

"I want to express my appreciation to the Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson, for taking on this difficult case. I also want to thank the multiple law enforcement agencies working through a lengthy investigation. They provided additional investigation requested by our bureau of investigations. It was a thorough and lengthy investigation. The facts and evidence were then provided to the Summit County Attorney for a review of the evidence and a charging decision."

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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the KSL.com team in 2021, after many years of reporting at the Deseret News and KSL NewsRadio before that.


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