Driver in deadly Grove Ave. crash told police he thought he was taking off in plane

Robert Gentil (Photo: Richmond Police Department)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The man blamed for a fatal accident on Grove Avenue earlier this week was arraigned in a Richmond court Friday morning.

32-year-old Robert Stevens Gentil is charged with felony involuntary manslaughter for the tragic crash that claimed the life of 64-year-old award winning author Elizabeth Pryor.

According to the suspect’s attorney, Gentil suffers from a mental illness and that may be to blame for he crash.

At a court hearing on Friday, Gentil had his original $15,000 bond appealed. A judge then set his bond to $50,000 with conditions: Gentil must live with his parents, get psychiatric treatment, forfeit his driver’s license and not operate any kind of vehicle. Gentil will also be electronically monitored.

In court, prosecutors say Gentil told police he was trying to take off like an airplane when he went speeding down Grove Avenue before the crash. Witnesses had reported that the suspect was traveling as fast as 70 miles per hour when his white Mitsubishi SUV collided with a small silver Audi.

Gentil had seen a doctor, but according to statements made in court, there was no indication something like this would happen.

8News spoke with the victim’s loved ones about their loss.

“She never did anything half heartedly. She was unbelievably determined and so whatever she did, she did it with gusto and passion and an incredible fighting will. When she was a little girl, she was in the Girl Scouts and she was insistent that she was going to earn every single Girl Scout badge — and she did,” said Dr. Beverly Louise Brown, Pryor’s sister. “Words will not say how I’ll miss my sister.”

Elizabeth Brown Pryor
Elizabeth Brown Pryor had worked as a senior diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service as well as teaching at the University of Richmond. (Photo: University of Richmond)

“She loved this city. She found her happiest years living among the good folk of Richmond,” said Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, a friend and former colleague of Pryor. “I think it’s hard not to wish we could all wake up and redo Monday.”

Ambassador Stephenson described herself as Pryor’s chosen personal representative.

“It was such an honor to play this role,” she said. “I knew her as one of our country’s most accomplished diplomats.”

Ambassador Stephenson says the two worked together for years to bed down a peace agreement.

“She was one of the first Americans to go in after the Siege of Sarajevo was lifted and lived under conditions of being cold and hungry but persevered,” she said. “I saw her sway audiences in all kinds of languages — English, Spanish, French, German. This is one remarkable human being that we lost.”

Gentil’s wife is pregnant with their first child and they were closing on a home. 8News confirmed that Gentil is a Spanish teacher at Richmond’s Thomas Jefferson High School. Lawyers in court said a toxicology report revealed that there were no drugs or alcohol in Gentil’s system at time of crash.

Gentil will be back in court on June 22.

8News reporter Kristin Smith is working to learn more about this developing story. Watch 8News at 5, 5:30 and 6 for a full report.

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