A judge accepted the plea of Not Guilty by reason of insanity for 32-year-old Robert Gentil, who will now be under the care of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services for an evaluation.
Gentil will be evaluated for 45 days at Central State Hospital in Petersburg. There, he'll have another mental health evaluation, which will determine the extent of his treatment in the future and whether or not he'll stay permanently at a facility. The court will then decide whether to recommend committing or releasing Gentil.
He was diagnosed as manic depressive, and his attorneys said he was having a manic attack during the incident. He was going at least 90 miles an hour along Grove Avenue at the time of the crash.
The crash killed Elizabeth Pryor, 64. Police say Gentil's SUV slammed into Pryor's vehicle from behind. The impact sent Pryor's car flying down the road into a tree, killing her immediately.
"It truly is a situation of which there are no winners, and that he is somebody who needs help and I truly hope that that's what he's going to get," said Beverly Brown, the victim's sister, after leaving the courtroom.
Brown says Pryor would have celebrated today, for its historic significance relating to her work. "This would have been such a glorious day for my sister because it is Robert E. Lee's birthday. She wrote a book on Robert E. Lee, which received seven literary prizes."
Now, Pryor's body of work captures her memory, after the devastating crash on Grove Avenue. Police say Gentil told authorities he thought he was in an airplane and wanted to take off. The former Thomas Jefferson high teacher's attorney, Ted Bruns, says Gentil has struggled with bipolar disorder for years, and was suffering from a fit of mania during the crash.
"He was acting impulsively as a function of his illness," Bruns says. "He's as distraught now as the day he learned that he had taken Miss Pryor's life."
Gentil's family and friends exited the court silently, but not without saying a few words to Elizabeth's sister.
Brown says she'll continue to cherish her sister's legacy. "She always celebrated today by cooking Mrs. Lee's favorite recipes, out of Mrs. Lee's cookbook. So, that's what I'm going to do tonight."
Pryor was a well-known author, historian and a University of Richmond faculty member.
Another hearing is set in March.
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