Driver sentenced in fatal 2019 Vicksville Road crash

Published 8:55 pm Thursday, February 23, 2023

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Deana Pittman, of Waverly, was sentenced Tuesday, Feb. 21, in Southampton Circuit Court to serve six months in jail for reckless driving. The charges are in connection with a 2019 Vicksville Road crash in Southampton County that resulted in the death of James Harvey Lee V, of Courtland.

Pittman was initially charged with hit and run with injury or death or damage greater than $1,000, but this was reduced as part of a plea agreement to the lesser included offense of reckless driving.

Pittman was the driver of a 2006 Jeep Wrangler in the early morning hours of Sept. 15, 2019, carrying three passengers — Hunter Bryant, Preston Harvanek and Lee, the latter of whom was in the front passenger seat. 

The Jeep was involved in a single-vehicle crash on Vicksville Road, reportedly in those early morning hours, resulting in Lee’s death.

Witness testimony ultimately featured conflicting narratives on what caused the crash. 

Initially, Pittman, Harvanek and Bryant stated that Lee had been standing or partially standing and possibly lost his balance, causing him to come down and hit the steering wheel, leading to the crash.

Bryant later testified that Lee never made any contact with the steering wheel.

Pittman’s initial testimony was that her passengers had drank alcohol that night but that she had not had anything alcoholic to drink, as she stated in a Sept. 19, 2019, interview with the claims department at Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance Company.

As Southampton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric A. Cooke stated during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Pittman has since conceded that she had consumed alcohol and that her consumption of alcohol and excessive speed contributed to the crash.

It was also mentioned during the hearing that she should have instructed her passengers to put on their seat belts.

However, Pittman’s attorney, Justin T. Bush, maintained that there was no evidence that Pittman was impaired, stating that while she contributed to the crash, she was not the cause of it.

Administrators from Tidewater Academy, where Pittman graduated and now works, spoke to her character during the sentencing hearing, expressing strong confidence and trust in her. Though they heard testimony that was notably critical of her, they indicated that it did not change their positive opinion of her.

Sgt. Hank Fuller, of the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office, responded to the scene of the crash in 2019 and also testified at the hearing Tuesday. 

He indicated that the call reporting the crash came in to dispatch at 3:22 a.m. After having difficulty finding the crash site on Vicksville Road, he went to the house of the caller, Hunter Bryant. At 3:40 a.m., he picked up Bryant, who helped him find the crash site.

Fuller indicated he did not encounter Pittman until around 6:30 a.m.

Lee’s father, James Harvey Lee IV, spoke at the sentencing hearing and addressed actions taken after the crash by Pittman, Harvanek and Bryant.

“What is even more sad than (James’) death is the lies that began immediately following the accident,” Lee stated. “It began with all of you leaving the scene of the accident. Leaving James lying there in the woods like an animal that had been hit while you fled the scene. Lying about having no cell service to call the police. A lie that was disproved because you called for someone to come and pick you up to flee the scene.”

In his comments just before announcing Pittman’s sentencing, Circuit Court Judge Robert H. Sandwich Jr. said, “What we’re here for is what happened after the accident.”

He noted that while he could understand Pittman being scared, what she did after the crash is one of the “most callous things” he has ever seen in this kind of situation.

Sandwich sentenced her to 12 months in jail for the charge of reckless driving, with six months suspended. He revoked her driver’s license for six months, and she is to engage in continued alcohol counseling and therapy.

He also sentenced her to 12 months of supervised probation. She received a $500 fine, and Sandwich said she also has court costs that could be offset by community service.

Pittman was remanded immediately into custody to begin serving her time.

Around 200 community members were on hand for the sentencing hearing in support of the Lee family.

Jack T. Randall, attorney for the Lees, said, “There was justice for the Lee family today. It wasn’t perfect justice,” but he noted that James was exonerated in the face of the narrative that claimed he was the cause of the crash.