RICHMOND -- Elias Webb was sentenced this morning to three years in prison for his role in the hit-and-run death of bicyclist Lanie Kruszewski.
In a hearing that lasted about 20 minutes, Richmond Circuit Judge Margaret P. Spencer followed the sentencing recommendation of a jury that had convicted Webb at his trial in February of leaving the scene of an accident that caused injury or death. Spencer also suspended his driver’s license for one year.
Under Virginia law, judges can affirm the jury's recommendation or can suspend a portion of the sentence, but they cannot impose a higher sentence. However, judges in Virginia rarely depart from a jury's recommendation.
Webb, 31, was driving a sport utility vehicle that fatally struck Kruszewski, 24, as she was riding her bike on River Road in Richmond's West End late at night on July 29.
Webb left the scene and later turned himself in to authorities. At his trial, he said he thought he had struck a deer.
Craig Cooley, one of Webb's two defense attorneys, pointed out to Spencer this morning that his client has no prior criminal record and that the state sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of one day to six months.
In arguing for Spencer to impose a sentence that was less than what the jury had recommended, Cooley said his client had made a very bad decision to leave the scene of the fatality, but he emphasized that it was an accident. Cooley also said Webb had not been able to see Kruszewski because of vegetation protruding into the roadway.
Richmond prosecutor Christine Cestaro argued against reducing the jury's recommended sentence.
“We don’t believe that would bring justice in this case,” Cestaro said.
Cestaro also questioned how Webb and his attorneys could reasonably challenge the recommendations of a jury that they had originally sought. Webb was given the option before trial to put his fate in the hands of a jury or a judge.
“Mr. Webb asked for the jury in this case,” Cestaro said.
Before Spencer imposed the sentence, she gave Webb a chance to speak. Webb turned to family members of Kruszewski who were seated in the courtroom gallery behind him, and he apologized to them.
“I think about Lanie every day,” he told them. “This is a horrible accident.”
One of the victim's sisters, Jackie Kruszewski, offered a brief comment as she left the courthouse.
“We’re pleased with how everything went,” she said.
-- Reed Williams