HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - A “hollow victory” - that is how the wife of fallen Hanover County firefighter Lt. Brad Clark describes the conviction of the man who crashed his tractor-trailer into a fire engine killing Clark.
On Friday, Melanie Clark, Lt. Clark’s wife, shared her thoughts following the guilty verdict in the trial of Lester Labarge.
Labarge, 51, of California, Maryland, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving in connection to the crash on Oct. 11, 2018.
“I believe this conviction sends a clear message that our firefighters' and police officers' lives are not expendable,” Clark said. “This ruling hopefully put all motorists on notice to be in full compliance with the move over law.”
Oct. 11 will mark two years since Clark was killed and two other firefighters were injured when Labarge’s tractor-trailer hydroplaned, crashing into Hanover Fire Engine 6 on I-295 during Tropical Storm Michael.
“While we do not celebrate this conviction, it does provide us with a sense of comfort knowing Brad, Carter, Dave and our family have finally received the justice we’ve been waiting for,” Clark said.
While the last two years have not been easy for Clark’s family and friends, there have been some positive moments.
“Brad’s death was not in vain,” Clark said. “There have been many remarkable strides through the move over law in our state which continues to bring awareness and education to motorists to give our firefighters and police officers a lane to work while they protect the emergency scene and victims which they are attending to.”
While Labarge’s conviction may have wrapped up the story, for now, Clark said there’s still more work to be done, especially in the form of driver education.
“The dangers our firefighters and police officers face on our hazardous roadways have increased significantly since Brad’s death,” she said.
Through the efforts by the Clark family and the Governor’s signature, the move-over law has strengthened significantly resulting in a higher fine or jail time.
“When motorists see red, blue, and amber lights it is our state law to move over and slow down while proceeding with caution,” Clark said.
It is something Labarge testified he did not know was a law in Virginia the night of that deadly crash.
Come December, specialty license plates will also be available to reinforce that ‘move over’ message.
“Proceeds from this purchase go to ‘Andy Fredericks Family Fund’,” Clark said. “This foundation, established in memory of firefighter Andy Frederick, supports the families of firefighters who have suffered serious injuries or a line of duty death and provides low-cost firefighter training.”
The Clark family also shared their thanks to the Hanover community for the support given over the past two years and encouraged family and friends to remember Clark for his fun-loving personality and dedication to the job.
“His guys, he trained them hard and trained them well,” Clark said. “He knew that he was here to serve our community. So, when this event unfolded the way it did, I have no doubt that Brad did everything he could to protect his guys on the scene; that is the way he was. He was an incredible, faithful, honest, loving, loyal husband and a great daddy to girls, all girls, we totally outnumbered him; he loved every minute of it.”
While the Clark family is expected to return to court in January for Labarge’s pre-sentencing hearing, Clark’s wife hopes motorists change their ways for the better.
“Maybe the only positive thing that will come out of this is that, hopefully, we can save another family from going through the devastation we have,” Clark said.
Labarge’s pre-sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 13, 2021 at 1:30 p.m. He faces up to 11 years in prison. Labarge had no comment following his guilty verdict Wednesday and will remain out on bond.
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