Man sentenced for deadly crash

Published 10:15 pm Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Drewryville man will spend the next six years in prison after being sentenced Thursday for a drunken-driving wreck that killed his fiancée and a friend.

Cornell A. Richardson, 42, crashed his car in the 6400 block of Holland Road while fleeing from a traffic stop in the early morning on July 9, 2011. He had been pulled over for speeding and initially stopped, but pulled away as the officer approached his 1992 Toyota.

His fiancée, Keiska Thornhill, 36, of Franklin, died at the scene. A friend, Laverne Samala Crowell, also 36, of Newport News, died five days later in the hospital.

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On the witness stand Thursday, Richardson said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his Army service during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He also lost a 16-year-old son to a heart attack in April 2011, he said.

He agreed to a statement by his defense attorney, Lindsay McCaslin, that the night of the wreck was “the worst night of his life,” although he doesn’t remember it well, he said.

“When I woke up, I was in intensive care,” he said.

McCaslin speculated that Richardson ran from the traffic stop because there was cocaine in the vehicle, though none was found in his system.

Richardson apologized to the families of his victims just before Judge Rodham T. Delk Jr. pronounced the sentence. He also wrote an apologetic letter to his fiancée’s mother soon after the wreck, he said.

“He took responsibility for everything,” McCaslin said. “It was a series of really bad decisions. We’re judging him on the worst decisions he’s ever made in his life.”

Prosecutor George Bruch said everything about the case is tragic. Even worse, he said, the police were not even pursuing Richardson because of a department policy that prohibits high-speed chases for simple crimes like traffic offenses.

“What he was running from was not pursuing him,” Bruch said. “He wasn’t being chased. He wasn’t going to get caught.”

Judge Delk said military service does not excuse criminal conduct.

“You left two mothers without daughters and five children without their mothers,” Delk said. “No amount of imprisonment is going to repair that.”

Delk sentenced Richardson to 10 years with eight suspended on each of the involuntary manslaughter charges; a year in jail and a $2,500 fine for driving under the influence of alcohol; a year in jail and a $2,500 fine for eluding police; and a $100 fine for driving without a license.

Charges of speeding, driving too fast for conditions and obstruction were not prosecuted. After the six-year sentence, the 16-year suspended sentence is contingent upon his completion of probation, substance abuse counseling, the ASAP program, restitution of $950 and other requirements.

The families of both victims also filed civil suits against Richardson. One has been settled; the other is set for trial in November.