HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A trial is underway for a tractor trailer driver accused of hitting and killing Hanover Fire Lt. Brad Clark in 2018.
Lester Labarge, 51, pled not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving in court Tuesday. Hanover Prosecutor Stephen Royalty said Labarge, “threw caution to the wind, literally and figuratively,” when he crashed into a Hanover County firetruck on Oct. 11, 2018.
However, Labarge’s Attorney, Ted Bruns, said Labarge was going under the speed limit and “sometimes an accident is just an accident.”
Lt. Clark was killed while responding to a two-car crash on I-295 South near the Meadowbrook Road exit. Clark arrived on a firetruck with three other Hanover firefighters around 9 p.m.
Nine witnesses were called to the stand by the prosecution Tuesday, including Clark’s colleagues who witnessed the crash. Many of them were emotional as they described photo evidence and recalled what happened that night.
According to witness testimony, the weather conditions were dangerous due to the remnants of Tropical Storm Michael. Witnesses describe heavy rain, high winds and low visibility on the roads.
Witnesses said the firetruck parked on the side of I-295 with its emergency lights on, taking up the left shoulder and far left lane. Just seconds later, a tractor trailer driven by Labarge hydroplaned and slammed into the back of the firetruck.
Clark was pinned under the front tire of the firetruck and died of blunt force trauma to the torso. Three other firefighters, Christopher Elish, Dave Johnson and Carter Lewis, were injured. All three of those men took the stand Tuesday.
Each testified they did not hear or see the tractor trailer coming. Some were alerted to it by a warning from Clark, who yelled out, “You gotta be kidding me!,” as the tractor trailer barreled toward them. Elish said that warning caused him to get back into the firetruck to stay safe.
A Hanover County ambulance and rescue truck also responded to the initial two-car crash. The crews in these vehicles also took the stand Tuesday. They testifed that Clark’s firetruck was the first to arrive on the scene of the crash, with their vehicles following shortly behind.
As these crews were driving to the scene, they saw two tractor trailers, one of them Labarge’s, pass their emergency vehicles on the highway. They testified about the severe weather conditions and said the tractor trailers were driving at a concerning speed.
One firefighter in the rescue truck remembers saying to his colleagues, “they must have a deadline,” referring to the tractor trailer drivers.
The witnesses described seeing Labarge’s tractor trailer hydroplane and jack knife, as the trailer portion swung out to the right. The tractor trailer then crashed into the back of Clark’s firetruck.
The court took a short recess when Royalty was told a witness, who had not yet been called to testify, was standing in the entryway of the courtroom, listening to other witness testimonies. The witness was called to the stand and asked about what he had heard. It is unclear if this witness will still testify during the trial’s second day.
The trial will continue on Wednesday, Sept. 30, with more witnesses are expected to take the stand, including Labarge.
This is a developing story. Stay with 8News for updates.
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