HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- Seth Fleming, the driver who crashed his pickup truck into a tree last year killing two friends, was sentenced Thursday in Hanover court. The judge went well above sentencing guidelines and sentenced Fleming to six active years in prison. Fleming was also ordered to pay funeral costs -- totaling more than $35,000 -- for his friends who died.
Earlier this year, Fleming pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection to the April 23, 2016 crash on Cold Harbor Road.
Before the crash Fleming, who was 18 years old at the time, was drinking with friends at the spring NASCAR race. Afterward Fleming and his friends went swimming. That evening they got into Fleming's truck to buy more beer. At about 10:23 p.m. he crashed into the tree.
The crash killed passengers Dylan Ballard, a 17-year-old Lee-Davis High School senior, and Elliott Hinton, a 22-year-old Radford University student. Four other friends in Fleming's vehicle were hurt. According to the medical examiner's report, both Ballard and Hinton died of acute blunt force head injuries.
One of the passengers told investigators everyone in the Dodge Ram had been drinking and smoking marijuana the night of the crash.
Investigators also detected a strong odor of marijuana and saw beer cans inside the vehicle.
In January, a Hanover judge denied bond to Fleming, calling him a danger to himself and to a lesser extent others.
The judge made that statement after hearing from a pretrial supervisor who testified Fleming was terminated from a rehabilitation program at New Life Journey after he tested positive for cocaine and missed more than one appointment.
The judge did not mince words Thursday either. The judge could have followed the recommended sentencing guidelines of six months or even suspended the sentence. However, the judge said they found the guidelines "woefully inadequate."
Multiple family members spoke at the emotional hearing; crying could be heard throughout the court room.
Donna Ballard, Dylan's mother, spoke first and said that for 587 days she has lived with a shattered heart -- ever since she received that last text at 9:49 p.m. on April 23.
She said she moved his senior picture to her bedroom and the first thing she sees when she wakes up is Dylan."This is a journey that I wish no one had to endure," Mrs. Ballard said.
She said that Dylan was the "Roman candle of our lives."
Denny Hinton said he received a call from an unnamed person, notifying him of the wreck and that his son Elliot was dead. "
"Every time the phone rings and it's after dark, and my children aren't home, I get the same feeling," he said.
Pat Hinton, Elliot's grandmother said: "our lives stopped and they have never been the same."
"He is the first thing I think of when I wake up and the last thing on my mind at night," said Jennifer Hinton, Elliot's mother. "I can't escape this nightmare world of him not being here."
Both Fleming's mother and lawyer expressed that he had grown in the past seven months since he had served jail time.
"He's grown into a strong young man, mentally and physically," Brenda Harding. "He knows he can never take back the night of April 23."
"The worst thing that could happen to Seth Fleming happened that night," said defense attorney Carl Whitmyer. "In my 40 years as a lawyer, I've never seen a boy mature more."
The assistant commonwealth's attorney Stephen Royalty believes that the sentencing guidelines need to be updated to distinguish manslaughter from vehicle or manslaughter.
"A crime this egregious needs to be met with a stern response," he said in court.
Fleming addressed the judge before he was sentenced.
"I never meant to hurt my friends or their families or my family," he said. "I am deeply sorry for my actions."
"I want to continue in AA, I want to continue therapy and working with homeless," Fleming added. "I want to amount to something and I want to make my family proud."
The judge sentenced Fleming to 10 years for each charge with all but seven suspended for each charge. He will serve just over five years total with the 85% rule in Virginia, plus the time already served.