An arrangement allowing the driver in the hit-and-run death of Lanie Kruszewski to serve jail time in Henrico County instead of at Richmond’s chronically overcrowded jail has frustrated Kruszewski’s family and surprised prosecutors.
One of Kruszewski’s sisters, Jackie Kruszewski, said Friday that the arrangement to let Elias Webb serve time in Henrico even though the crime occurred in Richmond smacks of preferential treatment.
“I just want to know who’s playing golf with whom,” she said.
Sheriff’s officials in Richmond and Henrico confirmed Friday that they approved a request by Webb’s attorneys that he be held at Henrico Jail West because the facility can better accommodate a breathing machine he uses for his sleep apnea condition.
Henrico Sheriff Mike Wade added that he could ask the Virginia Department of Corrections to allow Webb to serve his entire three-year sentence at the Henrico jail instead of serving a portion of the term at a state prison. But the sheriff said he had not decided whether he will make the request.
Webb essentially started serving his three-year term this week.
Wade added that Webb is not being treated differently than any other jail inmate, adding that it would be “inhumane” to deprive Webb of the breathing device for his sleep apnea.
Keith Marcus, one of Webb’s attorneys, added: “If he doesn’t have the machine that he needs, it’s life or death.”
Marcus said his client is not receiving preferential treatment and that it’s not unusual for inmates with a medical condition to be transferred to another facility.
“He is serving his debt to society, and that was what was determined by 12 people from the city of Richmond,” Marcus said.
Richmond Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin, one of the prosecutors who handled the criminal case against Webb, said she was surprised when a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter told her Friday that Webb was being held at the Henrico facility.
“Webb being housed in Henrico comes as a surprise to the commonwealth,” McEachin said. “I would have appreciated being able to have this discussion with defense counsel beforehand or having it brought up in open court.”
McEachin said the arrangement is relatively unusual because inmates convicted of crimes in Richmond typically serve their time in the “severely overcrowded, non-air-conditioned Richmond City Jail,” unless they are moved elsewhere for security reasons.
“Inmates will tell you if they had a choice between the Richmond jail and the Henrico jail, they would go to the Henrico jail, especially in summer,” McEachin said.
The city jail, which was built in the 1960s to house a significantly smaller population than it currently holds, has no air conditioning in its men’s tiers. A new Richmond jail is scheduled to open next year.
Webb, 31, was sentenced this week to three years, the same term a jury had recommended at his trial in February. The jury found him guilty of leaving the scene of an accident that caused injury or death.
Webb’s Dodge Durango fatally struck Kruszewski as she was riding her bike on the night of July 29 along River Road between Huguenot Road and Three Chopt Road in the city’s West End.
Webb, the son of local attorney Steven K. Webb, testified at his trial that he thought he had struck a deer but that he turned himself in to authorities after he realized the next day that he had struck Kruszewski.
Wade said Friday that he was told that Webb’s sleep apnea requires that he use a machine called a CPAP, which stands for “continuous positive airway pressure.” The device blows air into the mouth to keep airways open when a person sleeps.
“I personally sleep with a CPAP machine and know how you can’t do without it,” Wade said. “I think it’s inhumane to put anyone in the jail and not allow him to have a CPAP machine.”
Wade said he is unaware of any other situation in which an inmate was moved to the Henrico facility because it can better accommodate a CPAP machine.
Maj. Jerry Baldwin of the Richmond Sheriff’s Office said in an email that the city jail is old and is not “extremely accommodating of some medical conditions and the equipment they might require.”
Baldwin said the jail “can accommodate the use of CPAP and other equipment.” But because of the jail’s floor plan, he said, “having cords and cables draped through walkways could potentially create an unnecessary safety risk. In this case, another option was presented, and we didn’t need to try to accommodate the equipment.”
Baldwin added that it’s not uncommon for the Richmond Sheriff’s Office to move inmates to another facility that can better provide for their medical needs.
Wade initially said Friday that Webb was in a substance abuse/work release program that would make him eligible to work outside the jail after he gets a job that is approved by Wade’s office. Webb would have to have a global-positioning device on him so deputies could make sure he is at his job, and he would have to pay to be in the program. He would still spend nights at the jail.
But Wade later said he would have to re-evaluate whether Webb should be eligible for work release after a reporter told him that the Richmond judge who sentenced Webb had left the decision on work release up to the correctional facility.
Wade said he allows inmates to be in a work-release program only if a judge orders it, and he said that a judge leaving the decision up to the facility is not the same as ordering work release.
Jackie Kruszewski said she believes Webb should have to earn the privilege of being in a work-release program and that he should not be eligible until he has been behind bars for a year or two.
She said that for now Webb should be held in the city jail until he is moved to a prison.
Daniel Pritchett, who was Lanie Kruszewski’s boyfriend, said Webb is “trying to weasel out of the responsibility” and is making it hard for Lanie’s loved ones to find closure.
In Virginia, inmates who are sentenced to more than one year usually are moved at some point from a local or regional jail to a state prison.
A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections could not immediately say late Friday afternoon whether Webb will be moved to a prison, or when that might happen.
“We just want him to be treated like everyone else,” Jackie Kruszewski said. “Not like someone who has connections.”