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Driver who ‘flew’ down Grove Avenue before fatal crash enters insanity plea

Posted at 11:15 AM, Jan 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-20 09:21:51-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The man who sped down Grove Avenue and drove his Mitsubishi Outlander into another car killing the woman inside was ordered to be evaluated at a state mental health institution. Robert Gentil entered a not guilty plea by reason of insanity plea during a hearing in a Richmond courtroom Tuesday.

Gentil was ordered to undergo a 45-day mental evaluation at the institution. At the conclusion of the mental evaluation, the findings would be disclosed at a March 11 hearing.

Robert S. Gentil (PHOTO: Richmond Police)

Robert S. Gentil (PHOTO: Richmond Police)

Gentil's family argued the 32-year-old former Richmond Public Schools teacher suffered from a mental condition which manifested itself while he drove on Grove Avenue that April 2015 day. Gentil told investigators he "thought he was flying" as his Outlander reached speeds between 80 and 90 miles an hour, according to witnesses.

"At time he was in manic phase of bipolar disorder," his attorney Ted Bruns said. "Essentially it's a state of euphoria excitement it can lead to reckless behavior."

Grove Avenue Crash

Gentil's Outlander struck 64-year-old Elizabeth B. Pryor's Audi along the 4400 block of Grove Avenue, near Mary Munford Elementary School. Pryor, a University of Richmond faculty member, historian and former diplomat was killed.

Elizabeth Pryor

Lawyers with the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office said they would no longer handle the case as a criminal one.

Pryor's sister, who flew in from London to attend Tuesday's hearing, agreed with the way the Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney's Office has handled the case and said she did not believe Gentil maliciously killed her sister.

"I think it truly is a situation in which there are no winners," Beverly Louise Brown said. "He's somebody who needs help. I hope he gets it."

Gentil was charged with felony involuntary manslaughter following the crash. He faced up to 10 years in prison on that charge.

Gentil had been ticketed several times over the years in local courts for driving infractions:

  • Speeding in Richmond in 2008 and 2009.
  • Speeding, seat belt violations and improper driving in Henrico in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011
  • Speeding in Hanover in 2010
  • Speeding in Louisa in 2009

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