Teen pleads guilty in crash that killed rookie Henrico officer Trey Sutton

Posted at 7:04 AM, May 30, 2023

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — The teenage driver who was charged in the crash that killed 24-year-old Henrico Division of Police Officer Trey Sutton and severely injured two others pleaded guilty in court Tuesday morning.

Jeffrey Adam Lankford of Hanover, who was 18 at the time of the crash, was facingfelony involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor reckless driving charges.

He was sentenced to two years with one year and 10 months suspended for involuntary manslaughter. The two months of his sentence will be served on house arrest and not in jail, subject to approval from the sheriff.

Lankford will also have to complete 200 hours of community service and his driver's license will be suspended for a year.

The fatal crash happened on March 30, 2022, when Sutton, who had just graduated from the police academy a month beforehand, and his training officer, Greg Petrohovich, were transporting a man in custody. Police said they were hit by a truck at the intersection of Wilkinson Road and Chamberlayne Avenue in Henrico.

Henrico Officer Officer Trey Marshall Sutton.jpg
Henrico Police Officer Trey Marshall Sutton

Police added Sutton, who was driving the cruiser, was heading west on Wilkinson and the truck was heading south of Chamberlayne.

Police later said that Sutton was heading north of Chamberlayne and turning left onto Wilkinson, but they did not state who had the right of way at the time of the crash.

A search warrant application filed on April 1, 2022, stated that the truck, a Dodge Ram, that hit Sutton's cruiser was "traveling southbound on Rt 301/Chamberlayne Road approaching the intersection of Wilkinson Road in the right travel lane. The traffic signal controlling North and South lanes of travel was actively working and had changed from green to yellow to red. The Dodge continued towards the intersection, entering the intersection against the red traffic signal at which time the Dodge struck the marked Henrico Police vehicle on the passenger side."

A returned search warrant from April 4, 2022 stated the only item seized by police was the vehicle's airbag control modular.

Henrico Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor said there were two major legal hurdles they faced in the case.

The first was the Commonwealth and the defense disagreed on whether or not Sutton turned left and entered the intersection on a yellow or red traffic light signal.

The second thing Taylor described as a legal hurdle, was Lankford's truck did not have a black box, so there was no way of knowing his actual speed at the time of the crash. Involuntary manslaughter convictions of this type involved both speed and running a red light.

Taylor said the Commonwealth's position was that Lankford ran a red light.

Sutton's family wanted more time served for Lankford, but, according to Taylor, they willingly went along with the plea agreement because they wanted a felony on his record and didn’t want to risk a jury finding him guilty of a misdemeanor or less.

Lankford has no prior criminal history and had been out on a personal recognizance bond since being indicted.

Sutton was just a few months away from his wedding. His fiancee, Zoe Pierson, read the following victim impact statement to the court:

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; and you did not extend to him or anybody else on that road the same courtesy. I hope that everyday 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.

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