Driver pleads guilty in crash that killed Henrico Police officer

A teenage driver pleading guilty in the crash that killed a Henrico police officer last year.
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 12:34 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - A man sentenced to trial for a crash that killed a Henrico Police officer pleaded guilty in court Tuesday morning.

Jeffrey Adam Lankford was initially charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving, but a Henrico County Circuit Court judge accepted his plea deal.

His sentence was two years, but one year and 10 months were suspended. As part of the plea agreement, he’ll serve those two months on home incarceration.

Lankford was 18 when his truck struck a Henrico Police car at the intersection of Chamberlayne Road and Wilkinson Road in March 2022.

The crash killed 24-year-old Officer Trey Sutton and injured another Henrico officer and a man who was in the police car at the time of the crash.

The two officers were transporting a man in custody when the crash happened.

Police who investigated the incident found that the police cruiser was heading north on Chamberlayne and turning left onto Wilkinson when Lankford ran a red light and slammed into them with his truck.

Lankford was also ordered Tuesday to serve 200 hours of community service. His driver’s license is suspended for one year.

The family of Trey Sutton was disappointed with the sentencing.

“We were hoping for more accountability in the outcome today, but sadly, we could not get that,” Attorney Craig Curwood said, speaking on behalf of the Sutton family. “There is, however, some satisfaction in knowing that Jeffery Lankford will be a convicted felon for the rest of his life.”

The prosecution worked with the Sutton family and the defense to negotiate the plea deal.

Lankford’s misdemeanor reckless driving charge was also dropped.

“While we are disappointed with the sentence, we know that no sentence will bring back Trey or ease our suffering,” Curwood said on behalf of the family.

The Sutton family gave the plea deal the stamp of approval due to evidence concerns but reluctantly did so.

In order to prove involuntary manslaughter, the jury would have needed to see evidence that Lankford ran the red light that night with excessive speed.

In most cases like this one, the evidence lies in the vehicle’s “black box” data recorder.

However, in this case, Lankford’s truck was an older model without data recording capabilities, leaving the prosecution with little proof.

The only evidence they had involved new speed-tracking technology from Lankford’s iPhone, which had never been used in court.

“Being a new science, not subject to the court to understand if they would have accepted that new science, that was another factor for us to consider in coming to this resolution,” Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor said.

As part of the plea agreement, the fiance of Trey Sutton, Zoe Pierson, read an incredibly moving victim statement directed at Lankford.

Sutton and Pierson were set to get married just nine weeks after his death.

Her statement reads as follows:

This is Trey’s vow book. Instead of vows, it holds my eulogy to him and a copy of my vows, which were written in my vow book and buried with him on April 6th, 2022.

Ever since Trey’s death, our families and I have undergone the most gut-wrenching, horrific part of loss- reliving the worst night of our lives. There is no amount of time that can remove the image of Trey battered and broken, against our will and tender hands, unable to be mended and being told that he will die. On the night of March 30th, one of our newfound friends from his academy class called me from on-scene to let me know that your truck had collided with his cruiser. I heard the chaos from the scene as his friend panicked and shared with me where to go. You walked into the hospital for, seemingly, a check-up and walked right back out.

Meanwhile, Trey’s brother was picking me up off of the hospital room floor because I was in shock after receiving the worst news I could’ve ever imagined. I want you to know the extent of his injuries and experience the flashbacks and mental images we live with every day. I want you to know that he suffered severe head trauma- his mother and I spent all night suctioning blood from his nose and mouth. A perfectly healthy, strong body, the love of my life, lay there, unable to function because everything at the base of his neck and up was severed.

You will never have to know what it feels like to take a wedding band that was just picked up a week earlier and slide it onto the hand of your fiancé in his casket.

A brief decision from you, the defendant, took away 24 years of love and hard work- a son, a brother, a fiancé and a well-respected friend- and an immeasurable future. He will never be my husband. He will never get to be a father. He will never get to fulfill the career he worked so hard for or grow old with me like we planned. But while the magnitude of our loss is great, knowing he will never get the life he so well deserved is what hurts the most.

There is not a day that goes by that we don’t imagine his voice, miss him on holidays, hear a song that reminds us of him, or that even his animals don’t expect him to walk in the door. Our families will never be the same. No matter what happened in this room today, you (the defendant) still have the opportunity to live a full life with family, a wife, children, grandchildren and other luxuries that we and Trey will not receive. Our families will always think of that when we look at the empty seat at our dinner tables, the empty frames for photos of a wedding that had to be unraveled 9 weeks before, the emptiness in our hearts for his absence and future.

I will never have my questions answered, but every day I find myself running through the list:

-Why did you run that red light?

-Why did you think your speed on that stretch of road was appropriate and safe?

-Why are you able to walk around every day, unharmed, based on a decision you made, while we pick up the shattered pieces of a reality without Trey?

-Why, why, why?

There is no justice today. Today is still only about you, your future and your fears. It does nothing for us. It doesn’t bring Trey back, and it gives you very little accountability for what you’ve done. It has been 425 days since we had to explain what happened to everyone we knew, 425 days of living in this nightmare, and 425 days in expectation of today. You might rationalize what happened in your head, make excuses for why and how it happened the way it did. We all traveled to MCV that night and we put no one in harms way in the process. If it had been you hurt that night, Trey, who took his oath to protect and serve, would’ve been the one to show up, no questions asked. He would’ve done his best to make sure you went home that night; you did not extend to him or anybody else on that road the same courtesy. I hope that every day when you wake up, those first minutes are spent hearing these words over and over again. I hope that when you’re standing by at the altar on your wedding day, you think about everything you took away. I hope that when your first child is born, you’re overcome with fear about their future and know that every day is fleeting. And when you give them car keys for the first time, I hope you’re taken right back to that moment in that intersection.

Lankford apologized to the family when given a chance to speak before his sentencing.

“We hope that we can use this tragedy in the near future to improve our local, state, and national laws to protect our first responders and their families, sadly not if, but when this happens again,” the Sutton family said in a statement.