A pedestrian was fatally struck Tuesday afternoon by a Pulse bus as she was crossing West Broad Street near Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.
The death is the first involving a Pulse bus on GRTC Transit System’s bus rapid transit line in Richmond, which opened in June 2018 and connects Rocketts Landing with Willow Lawn.
The woman, whose identity was not immediately released, was hit about 5 p.m. and died at the scene, Richmond police spokesman James Mercante said.
Mercante said the woman was crossing Broad just west of Bowe Street, from south to north, when she was struck by an eastbound Pulse bus. He said the woman was knocked several feet across the intersection, to the other side of Bowe.
Mercante said the bus has video footage, which will be part of the investigation. The driver’s identity was not immediately disclosed.
“Early reports indicate the woman was in the bus lane and the bus had the right of way when the collision occurred,” Mercante said in a statement Tuesday night.
A fare enforcement inspector who was on board the bus reported an injury that GRTC spokeswoman Carrie Rose Pace described as minor. No injuries were reported by the eight passengers or the driver, she said.
Rose Pace said in a statement that GRTC is assisting Richmond police with the investigation and that “we won’t know more until security footage is reviewed.” The bus is still operable but was towed away.
“The entire GRTC family is grieved by the accident today, which took the life of a pedestrian, and our deepest condolences are with the pedestrian’s family,” the statement said. “We are focused on the well-being of our operator who drove the bus and are ensuring they receive care. Per safety protocols, the operator will be checked at a hospital.”
The state medical examiner’s office will determine the pedestrian’s cause and manner of death.
According to Rose Pace, the last pedestrian fatality involving a GRTC bus was in 2009 at 14th and Franklin streets. Teresa Jones, who was driving the bus, was convicted of reckless driving in the death of Prince George County resident Loucendia Reed Lambert, 55, who was on her way to work at the Virginia Department of Health.
In January, six people were taken to hospitals after a Pulse bus and a car collided a little less than a half-mile west of Tuesday’s crash site, just southeast of The Sauer Center development. The driver of the car was charged with reckless driving.
In July 2018, a Pulse bus and a pickup truck collided at West Broad Street and North Allen Avenue, about two-tenths of a mile west of Tuesday’s crash, sending the bus driver and five bus passengers to the hospital. The driver of the pickup truck was issued a summons for a traffic infraction.
Last year, there were no pedestrian deaths on Richmond streets, though two people were killed walking along interstates within the city limits. In 2017, the city set a record with 11 pedestrian deaths, one of which was on Interstate 95. That is more than double the number of deaths of any other year on record.
To a certain extent, Petersburg Circuit Judge Dennis M. Martin Sr. agreed with 16-year-old Tyron Clanton’s attorney: The boy, convicted of executing two men in what amounted to a gang hit, was a product of his environment.
He was the eldest of five children to a single mother, had no adult role models, was physically abused as a child, and was exposed for much of his young life to violence, drugs and gangs while living in subsidized housing, according to authorities and Clanton’s attorney.
A person would have to be delusional, Martin said, to believe that those negative influences wouldn’t have a damaging, if not destructive effect, on a child’s life.
“We keep putting our children in these traumatic situations,” the judge, who is black, said of certain segments of Petersburg’s African American community. “This is why we have these problems” with intractable crime and violence in the city, he said.
“I recognize you’re a child, and what happened to you as a child,” the judge told the teen.
Notwithstanding those mitigating circumstances, the judge said he couldn’t overlook the pain, anger and loss that Clanton’s actions inflicted on the families of the two men the teen killed on orders from his O.G., or “original gangster,” on July 18, 2018.
The men he fatally shot were two of Petersburg’s 17 homicide victims last year, a record for this city of 32,000.
The slayings of Bernard Spratley, 33, and Leon Lyle, 24, left their collective 10 children without fathers, family members noted in testimony.
Less than an hour before they were killed, Clanton and his two friends, Talik Warren and Austin Evans, had been socializing with both victims, smoking marijuana and getting tattoos before they all decided to drive to Pecan Acres, a federally subsidized housing complex.
“He assassinated the men,” Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Ken Blalock said of Clanton, who at just 15 years and 4 months old was a member of a localized version of the notorious Crips gang. “He knew the whole ride that he was going to kill” them.
After Clanton delivered a tearful apology in Petersburg Circuit Court, Martin sentenced the teen to 118 years in prison with all but 28 years suspended, which he will serve in an adult prison after he turns 21.
Until then, Clanton will be committed as a serious offender to the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, which amounts to an additional five years of incarceration.
There, he will receive treatment and be afforded an opportunity “to mature in a positive environment,” said his attorney, Mary K. Martin, who urged the court to craft a “blended” sentenced of juvenile and adult punishment.
“He was a child when this happened,” Martin told the court. “His future has not yet been written in stone.”
A review hearing will be held in two years to determine whether Clanton will remain in juvenile custody until he’s 21 or be sent directly to the Department of Corrections.
The adult punishment decided by the judge was near the low end of state sentencing guidelines calculated for Clanton, which recommended a punishment of between 25 years and five months and 43 years and three months. The maximum punishment as an adult is two life terms plus 20 years.
In June, a Petersburg jury found Clanton guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and two firearm counts.
According to testimony and corroborating evidence presented at trial, Clanton, Warren and Evans were all at a home shared by Lyle and his girlfriend; Spratley was also there. The group was smoking marijuana, and some were getting tattoos provided by Lyle.
At one point during the gathering, the three teens left with Spratley and Lyle, with Lyle driving and Spratley in the front passenger seat. The three teens got in the back.
Lyle and Spratley had agreed to drive the teens to Pecan Acres, where Clanton once lived and had friends who lived in the complex. Clanton would frequently hang out with them there.
After Lyle stopped at the south end of the complex in his gold Honda in the 900 block of Augusta Avenue, Clanton, who was sitting behind Spratley, stepped out of the car but then leaned back in and shot Lyle in the back of the head. He then shot Spratley in the back of the neck; the round went up through his head.
Clanton, Warren and Evans then ran from the car toward the complex.
Shortly after the shootings, Warren asked Clanton why he shot the men, and Clanton said “that his O.G. told him to do it,” Warren testified at the trial.
Clanton appeared to inadvertently confirm a gang component to the killings when he told detectives in an interview — without any prompting — that Lyle “wasn’t allowed” in Pecan Acres.
Spratley, mortally wounded, survived long enough to provide police who had arrived at the scene with a general description of the three juveniles who were riding in the car.
During the investigation, detectives obtained photos and videos from Clanton’s phone and Facebook page that showed him with the murder weapon in the days leading to the killing, along with him and other teens flashing Crips gang signs.
In one photo, the gun can be seen tucked in Clanton’s waistband about 7 p.m. on July 19 in Pecan Acres — just a few hours before the slayings.
Police determined that the murder weapon — a .45-caliber Glock 21 semiautomatic pistol — had been stolen a week earlier from the home of then-Petersburg police officer Marqueth Bonner. The officer, who had a distant family connection to Warren, had agreed to let the boy stay with him for several months after learning he was in trouble and needed a place to live.
In August, both Warren and Evans each pleaded guilty to being accessories after the fact to murder and were sentenced to one year in jail.
On Tuesday, the judge told Clanton he has a lot of time to serve, but his future depends largely on how well he does in juvenile custody over the next three to five years.
“You have to have hope,” Martin told the teen. “You got to keep going [by getting therapy and education].”
The judge challenged the boy to “overcome your situation” so that the two men he killed will not have “died in vain.”
“That’s the way you say you’re truly sorry,” Martin said. “It’s up to you to do it. You got to believe you can, and you got to want to.”
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Before she was killed in her Stratford Hills home, Suzanne Fairman complained to Thomas E. Clark’s boss about some work that had been done on her deck, according to court documents.
On May 9, Richmond police believe that Clark, who had been involved in the original work on Fairman’s deck, returned to her home and offered to finish the job.
Instead, authorities believe he tied her up, held her in her bedroom and strangled her, according to an affidavit for a search warrant in the case.
Clark was free on bond on several unrelated charges when Fairman was killed, and seven days earlier had been removed from electronic monitoring, said Michael S. Huberman, the chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney in Henrico County.
Clark, 59, of the 7100 block of Horsepen Road in Henrico, is now facing charges of murder, rape and abduction with intent to defile in Fairman’s death.
In Henrico, he is also charged with three charges related to not complying with requirements of the state’s sex offender registry, authorities said. In July 1988, an Alexandria jury found Clark guilty of forcible rape of a woman , a courthouse official said. Jurors recommended, and a judge ordered, that he serve 15 years in prison.
In the case of Fairman’s death, Clark told police he and a co-worker did the original work on Fairman’s deck in mid-April at the two-story house on Tanglewood Road. The search warrant affidavit does not say when she complained about the job, but says she “was unhappy with the work and texted the owner to have it redone.”
Officers responded to Fairman’s home on May 9 to conduct a welfare check after her nephew reported Fairman was supposed to have taken a trip to Florida.
Officers found Fairman, a 53-year-old administrator at Virginia Commonwealth University, in a tub in her bathroom. There was an appearance of ligature marks on her wrist, the affidavit said. A steak knife from Fairman’s kitchen was found on a sink across from the tub, along with a rubber glove, a phone charging cord and a wet bandanna that appeared to have blood on it.
Police found what they believed to be blood in the bed in the master bedroom and on the pillows. The front and back door of the house were unlocked, with no sign of forced entry. The doctor who performed her autopsy found that the cause of death was asphyxia and noted that her hands had been bound.
After learning of her complaint about the deck, Richmond police Detective James Baynes called the owner of C&C and Son Landscaping and Pressure Wash, which Clark listed as his employer of a year on several recent court documents. In the affidavit, Baynes said he asked the owner if he had left anything at Fairman’s home.
“Clark got on the phone and said that he’d left his bandanna at the house,” the court document said. Baynes later showed him a photo of the bandanna recovered from the scene of the homicide and Clark said that he believed it was the one he had left there on the day he did the original work on the deck.
Clark denied having any sexual relationship with Fairman and told Baynes he’d been at work the day she died, the affidavit says. But Clark’s boss told the detective that Clark had “never showed up” for work that day.
When reached by a reporter on Tuesday, Corey Harris, who is listed as the licensee of C&C and Son on the company’s Facebook page, said: “He didn’t do it. I can’t confirm nothing. Don’t call my phone.” Then he hung up.
While Clark was being interviewed by police about Fairman’s death, he made comments that gave Baynes pause, the affidavit said.
“Clark mentioned that the victim was in good shape and went to the gym,” the document says. The suspect also said the victim was “beaten up and thrown in the tub,” but the affidavit adds that a media release had said the victim had been found in the bathtub, but made no mention of her being beaten. When he was confronted with this fact, Clark said that he “must have heard that from somewhere but couldn’t say where he’d heard it.”
Also in the affidavit, Baynes mentioned Clark’s 1988 rape conviction and that he’s a registered sex offender.
And, in describing a Richmond case from 2005, the affidavit said Clark “got into a woman’s house by ruse and assaulted her, then held her down by her wrists and tried to extort money from her.”
Clark pleaded guilty to attempted robbery in the Richmond case. Photographs in the court file showed the victim with a blackened right eye and abrasions under her chin and behind her ear. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In October 2018, Clark and two others were picked up on several misdemeanors in Henrico including distribution of drug paraphernalia, destruction of property, tampering with a vehicle, and two counts of petty larceny.
He was initially denied bond, but as the case was continued several times, a judge let Clark out on a $2,500 personal recognizance bond on Jan. 10.
On May 2, a week before Fairman’s death, prosecutors offered all three co-defendants a plea deal, Huberman said. The others took the deal; Clark’s attorney requested more time and asked that his ankle monitor be removed. Huberman said Clark had been compliant with his pre-trial release. Later that month, Huberman said he had received a call from investigators in Richmond about locking up Clark while they built their case.
On May 16, Clark was arrested on the sex offender registry charges for which he’s been held since.
In August, he pleaded no contest to the five misdemeanors in Henrico and received three years in jail.
A Richmond grand jury indicted Clark on Monday on the charges in the Fairman case.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to clarify the prosecution's position on the removal of Clark's ankle monitor.
Fewer Richmond Public Schools students are graduating from high school, state data released Tuesday shows, in a trend officials foreshadowed when revealing that the district’s state-low graduation rate had been inflated for years.
The Virginia Department of Education’s annual release of on-time graduation and dropout rates showed just 7 in 10 city seniors finished high school on time last school year. The year prior, 3 in 4 students graduated on time.
“We are of course deeply disappointed by the latest graduation numbers, but as we shared last spring, we knew a decline was possible — if not likely — as we stopped a number of inappropriate adult practices that were artificially inflating our rate,” RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras said in a statement. “We clearly have more work to do, but I’m confident we are now heading in the right direction.”
Kamras’ administration told the city School Board in May that for an unknown number of years, educators in the city school system were rubber-stamping student work, choosing to use an alternative test instead of giving students the common state test, and putting students on individualized education programs to circumvent state graduation requirements. All of those practices, Kamras said, inflated the graduation rate.
The discovery was made as the school district worked with the Virginia Department of Education to review every student transcript — an evaluation prompted by an audit released last year that found widespread issues in the school system’s awarding of course credit.
Tuesday’s data release — the first since the “inappropriate practices” were uncovered — also showed that 24% of city students who would have graduated this year dropped out of school.
The graduate rate was fairly stagnant across the state.
Last year, 91.6% of students who started high school in the fall of 2014 received their diploma. This year, 91.5% of students did. More than half of the students in this year’s graduating class across the state got an advanced diploma.
The percentage of students graduating on time has increased about 10 percentage points over the past 10 years.
“I believe this long-term, upward trend will continue as school divisions and the commonwealth adopt equitable policies and practices that provide instructional and support services tailored to the unique needs of every learner,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said in a statement.
The dropout rate was also stagnant, going from 5.5% last year to 5.6% this year.
Dropout rates were highest for English language learners, a quarter of whom didn’t walk across the stage. Eight percent of economically disadvantaged students dropped out.
Asian students posted the lowest dropout rate at 1.7%. Among white students, 2.9% dropped out. Six percent of black students did the same.
The Richmond region as a whole posted a 90.9% on-time graduation rate, which was slightly below the state average.
Charles City County graduated all 42 students who started high school in 2015, one of just three school systems in the state — and the only one in the region — to have every student graduate.
Richmond’s drop was the largest in the region, followed by Hopewell, which went from an 89.8% graduation rate last year to 85.6% this year.
Chesterfield County’s graduation rate dropped slightly from 90.9% to 90.6%.
The district had 4,654 students complete high school in four years, the most in the region. An additional 357 dropped out, while 67 are still in school.
The school system said in a news release that it is working on an audit of every dropout.
“This involves making personal contacts with each family with a goal of having the student re-enroll,” Superintendent Merv Daugherty said. “Additional student support services are also being incorporated to work with students who may be vulnerable to dropping out.”
Of Chesterfield’s 10 comprehensive high schools, Meadowbrook High had the lowest on-time graduation rate at 78%. Cosby High School’s 99.3% was the highest.
Hanover County retained its 95% graduation rate, the highest in the area.
Hanover High School held on to the title of having the highest graduation rate in the county at 97.9%. Nearly 7 in 10 Hanover graduates last year received an advanced diploma.
“Our students strive to achieve,” Nancy Disharoon, the school system’s director of accreditation and accountability, told the county School Board on Tuesday. “It demonstrates their drive and their willingness to work hard.”
The county’s 2.4% dropout rate was less than half of the state average.
Henrico County’s graduation rate fell from 92.3% last year to 90.8% this year.
This year’s rate is closer to years past. Last year, Henrico saw the largest gain (1.2 percentage points) of the four biggest school districts in the region.
Henrico schools spokesman Andy Jenks said connecting with students and helping them transition better to high school will help improve the district’s numbers.
“Our preference would be to continue Henrico’s historical trend of steady increases in the on-time graduation rate,” Jenks said. “We know that the journey to graduation begins long before a student enters grade 9.”
Jenks specifically highlighted a transition program all rising freshmen go through.
He added that for students in their fourth year of high school and not on track to graduate, the school district offers Standards of Learning tutoring if they still need to pass state tests in order to graduate. The students also have access to more credit-recovery opportunities and night school, Jenks said, and school staffs meet weekly or biweekly to discuss these students and how to best support them.
J.R. Tucker High School had the lowest graduation rate in the county at 82.5%. If not for a special waiver because of past performance, the school’s 14.7% dropout rate — the highest in the county — would have caused Tucker to be accredited with conditions this year. The school has retained its accredited rating.
Jenks said last week that Tucker has created a task force of school and central office staff members to monitor students who “are in danger of not graduating from high school in four years.” The group meets biweekly, he said.
Ninety-nine percent of students who started high school in 2015 at Deep Run High School graduated on time, the top mark in the system.
The city school system has the lowest graduation rate in the state for the second straight year.
Last year, 75.4% of students graduated on time. This year the rate has fallen to 70.6%. Richmond and Manassas were the only school divisions in the state to graduate fewer than 4 in 5 students this year.
Richmond’s 24% dropout rate (372 students) was more than 8 percentage points higher than any other school system. The dropout rate was especially stark for English language learners in the city, nearly half of whom dropped out of school. That’s an improvement over the 59% dropout rate among English learners last year.
Of the five comprehensive high schools in RPS, John Marshall had the highest graduation rate at 89.9%. George Wythe High School’s rate fell 14 percentage points to 59.6%, the lowest in the city.
Kamras, the city schools chief, said a turnaround plan that includes the rethinking of high school — specifically turning high schools into themed schools that focus on subjects such as engineering and social justice — will help improve the numbers.
“[Richmond students] are every bit as capable as those in any other school division; we, the adults, just need to make sure we give them every opportunity to succeed,” he said. “With our strategic plan, Dreams4RPS, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Goals approved by the Richmond School Board on Monday are meant to get the graduation rate up to at least 80% by 2022-23, which would still be below the current state average.