Drewryville man gets six years in prison in drunken-driving deaths

Published 10:35 am Friday, August 10, 2012


SUFFOLK—A Drewryville man will spend six years in prison for a drunken-driving wreck that killed his fiancée and a friend.

Cornell A. Richardson, 42, crashed his car on Holland Road while fleeing from police in the early morning of July 9, 2011. Richardson had been pulled over for speeding and initially stopped, but pulled away as the officer approached the 1992 Toyota he was driving.

His fiancée, Keiska Thornhill, 36, of Franklin died at the scene. A friend, Laverne Samala Crowell, 36, of Newport News, died five days later.

On the witness stand during sentencing on Thursday, Richardson said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his Army service during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He also lost a 16-year-old son to a heart attack in April 2011.

Richardson agreed to a statement by his defense attorney, Lindsay McCaslin, that the night of the wreck was “the worst night of his life,” although he doesn’t remember it well.

“When I woke up, I was in intensive care,” he said.

McCaslin speculated that Richardson ran from the traffic stop because there was cocaine in the vehicle, though none was found in his system.

He apologized to the families of his victims just before Judge Rodham T. Delk Jr. pronounced the sentence. He also wrote an apologetic letter to his fiancé’s mother soon after the wreck

“He took responsibility for everything,” McCaslin said. “It was a series of really bad decisions. We’re judging him on the worst decisions he’s ever made in his life.”

Prosecutor George Bruch said everything about the case is tragic. Even worse, he said, the police were not even pursuing Richardson because of a department policy that prohibits high-speed chases for simple crimes like traffic offenses.

“What he was running from was not pursuing him,” Bruch said. “He wasn’t being chased. He wasn’t going to get caught.”

Delk said military service does not excuse criminal conduct.

“You left two mothers without daughters and five children without their mothers,” Delk said. “No amount of imprisonment is going to repair that.”

The families of both victims also filed civil suits against Richardson. One has been settled; the other is set for trial in November.