Agreement sends driver in fatal crash to prison

Dec. 09, 2013 @ 08:50 PM

Vincent Eugene Gregory has agreed to a plea and will serve the next seven to 10 years in state prison.

Gregory was the driver of a vehicle that ran off the road and killed 5-year-old Jayden Chad Stokes as he and his father walked to a park on a Sunday afternoon, Jan. 27.

Prosecutors in Vance County Superior Court on Monday dropped second-degree murder, driving while impaired and driving while license revoked charges in exchange for a plea to two felonies in the case.

Stokes family members said they agreed with the penalty and could now begin their healing process.

Gregory expressed remorse as he accepted guilt to felony death by vehicle and felony serious injury by vehicle. Judge Robert Hobgood imposed a sentence of 90-132 months in prison plus a $57,000 restitution order.

Stokes’ mother, Candace Gorman, said she felt strengthened while in court on Monday, and she felt some relief that the sentence was at the high end of a recommended range.

“We believe Jayden was there in spirit,” Gorman said, “so we can start healing.”

His father, Richard Thomas Stokes IV, going by the nickname “Chad,” said he appreciated the efforts of prosecutors who represented the case.

“Nothing can bring him back, but it does give us closure,” he said.

During the sentencing phase of the court deliberations that continued past morning, Gorman and several family members addressed remarks to the court and to Gregory.

They included expressions of forgiveness toward Gregory, adding that the future preacher in Jayden Stokes would want to forgive. They also included questions of why a man would be drinking at noon on a Sunday.

“He was my only child, my baby,” Gorman said.

Alisa Gorman said her grandson had forgiven Gregory long ago, that it was her grandson’s nature, the one who would take her hand to remind her that it was time to attend a church fellowship gathering. He would attend with her.

“My pastor said he was like a little preacher without a license,” she said. “He would teach others to pray, take their hand. He also wanted to be the next drummer for the church band.

“Jayden was my little buddy,” she added. “He really was. We lost such a great young man.”

In urging for the most possible consequence, District Attorney Sam Currin said that when God metes out justice, he can take Gregory’s remorse into account.

The state had already considered as much as it should on account of Gregory’s remorse, Currin added, in that it fashioned a deal that dropped other serious charges.

“We have given every consideration for his remorse, and ask that he be sentenced to the upper end of the sentence range,” Currin said.

Gregory’s attorney, Nick Bagshawe, asked that mitigating factors be considered, including Gregory’s quick, willing confession and complete cooperation with police.

Gregory’s brother, Tee Gregory, said he was taken off-guard by the heavy sentence that he thought would add up to about three or four years.

“From what we heard, it wasn’t going to be like this,” Tee Gregory said. “We didn’t expect anything like this. We are relieved, and my brother is relieved, to have this done, though.”

Assistant District Attorney Bill Griffin presented 911 recordings from the accident scene as part of the state’s evidence during the prosecution phase of the plea hearing.

Amidst the crying out of callers and others in the background, comments came through to the 911 telecommunicator, such as, “He hit a child,” “a child is involved” and “he’s not breathing.”

“The child is dead, ma’am,” one distraught caller cried out, and the telecommunicator attempted to calm her down enough to check again and ask if anyone knew how to apply resuscitation techniques.

Griffin said a blood-alcohol test at Maria Parham Medical Center showed a toxicity level of 0.12 after the incident. State law deems a driver deemed impaired at a level of 0.08 or higher.

Numerous persons involved at the scene on East Montgomery Street described to police at the time, and in court on Monday, the shock of seeing the small child bleeding so much.

One testifying for the defense was Gregory’s pastor, the Rev. Brenda Peace-Jenkins, who is also a member of the Henderson City Council. She went to the scene as soon as she learned that a parishioner had been in a crash.

“Gregory had been in an accident,” she said. “He was begging for the child to breath. He was very distraught. Everyone was very distraught. I did not know that blood could be so red.”

The 48-year-old Gregory, of 270 Sparrow Lane, Henderson, testified also, admitting that his words would be of little use now.

“I am sorry,” he said. “I know words could never bring him back. I would do anything to bring him back. I just want you to know that I am sorry.”

Richard Stokes said in court that he had permanent injuries that prevented him from work. He was hit and his child killed as they walked to a park to play.

Gregory was first on a list of murder cases that went before Hobgood for status conferences in October as part of an effort to resolve some of Vance County’s serious criminal prosecutions more quickly.

Alisa Gorman said one of her last memories with Jayden Stokes was coming home from a church event on Thursday night days before he died. It had been snowing.

“We were out until 1 in the morning building little snowmen in the snow,” she said.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.