HANOVER Co., Va. (WWBT) - The man convicted of crashing his tractor-trailer into a fire engine, killing Hanover firefighter Lt. Brad Clark in 2018, will serve two years in prison.
Hanover County Circuit Court judge the Honorable Patricia Kelly handed down the sentence Wednesday to Lester Labarge, 51, of Maryland, for the involuntary manslaughter charge. His sentence for reckless driving was suspended.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect him to get a long sentence,” said Bob Clark, Brad’s father. “I think it will have an effect on other drivers who drive trucks, hopefully, it’s a wake-up call for them. Him serving time in jail doesn’t help our situation a whole lot.”
Sentencing guidelines presented during the hearing suggested a sentence of two years and 11 months.
Hanover County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephen Royalty urged the court to consider a sentence which “greatly exceed[ed]” the court guidance. Meanwhile, Labarge’s attorney, Ted Bruns, urged the court to not imprison his client.
The formal sentencing comes more than three months after Labarge was convicted of his charges in 2020.
On Wednesday, the Court heard victim impact statements from family and friends of the Clarks.
Bob Clark was the first to take the stand calling himself a “proud father” to Brad and how he was blessed to share his life with his son for 43 years.
Each of the witnesses who took the stand were asked share how they found out about Brad’s death.
Clark said he was at home that night and, like several others, came across a social media post asking for “prayers for Station 6.”
On Oct. 11, 2018, Brad 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. The crew had responded to a two-vehicle accident near exit 38 when the secondary crash happened around 9:09 p.m.
“He was ripped from our lives… he died tragically and senselessly,” Clark said in court.
However, Brad died having saved other crew members on scene, alerting them about the tractor-trailer heading their way.
“My son was amazing,” Clark said. “I’ve been working on this victim impact statement for two years and the last two days have been pretty difficult.”
Brad’s stepdaughter, Olivia Robinson, also spoke in court, reading part of an essay she wrote shortly after Brad’s death.
“I fell to the floor screaming ‘no,’” she shared with the court.
Robinson spoke of the love her stepfather had for her, despite not having been there for her birth.
She added the faith and love Brad showed to everyone left her with no choice but to forgive Labarge for his actions that October night.
“I will continue to share his story until my last breath,” she said.
One of the crew members of Engine 6 also provided testimony Wednesday. David Johnson was seriously injured during that crash, and as a result, had to retire from his position with the Hanover County Fire & EMS Division.
Johnson said he did not realize Brad had died until a week later because he was in a coma.
“I missed saying goodbye; I missed his funeral,” he said. “It’s a feeling like a bag that won’t close.”
Johnson added he has lost pieces of his memory because of the crash and was diagnosed with several medical conditions.
Brad’s wife, Melanie, testified she spoke with her husband as he was receiving the call for the two-vehicle accident on I-295. Their final exchange was saying “I love you” and Melanie telling him to be careful.
Melanie also shared remarks about Brad’s character and the impact his death has left on his family and friends.
“Your actions… led to his death and permanent injuries of others involved,” she said.
Like Olivia, Melanie also extended forgiveness to Labarge, even though she said it was a struggle.
As for testimony from the defense side, when given the opportunity to address the court, Labarge declined. Bruns said his client is not good at public speaking and would struggle with how to say what he is feeling.
“I’m disappointed, but everybody has their limitations,” Clark said. “I’m not going to pass judgment on him. I would have loved to hear from him a heartfelt statement.”
Bruns added Labarge has struggled since this incident mentally and is receiving help for it. He added his client is a good person.
Labarge and his attorney plan to appeal the September conviction.
As a result, Kelly allowed Labarge to remain out on bond until his appeal is filed and a new bond hearing can be scheduled.
NBC12′s reporter Karina Bolster had the following conversation with Labarge as he left the courthouse Wednesday:
NBC12: “Mr. Labarge, do you have any comments following today’s [sentencing]?”
Labarge: “No comment.”
NBC12: “None at all?”
Labarge: “None at all.”
NBC12: “I know the family had wanted to hear some sort of apology from you.”
Labarge: “No comment.”
Labarge is scheduled for another hearing on Jan. 28 to figure out how he should be held on bond and restitution concerns.
Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.