ESSEX COUNTY, Va. -- The man accused of fatally running over his girlfriend in Essex County last month has a troubled past, according to court documents. Essex County Sheriff Stanley Clarke said Benjamin Matthew Gray left his 36-year-old girlfriend Yolanda Smith to die in the median of Route 17 after the pair got into an argument Feb. 28. While Smith was riding in Gray’s SUV, he allegedly threw her out of the vehicle before purposely running her over at the intersection of Boston Road and Tidewater Trail.
Gray’s criminal past includes charges of aggravated malicious wounding, shooting into an occupied building and assault and battery on a family member. Those charges were listed in Richmond Circuit Court from 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2014.
It’s a past Tawanda Lindo wished was a red flag for her older sister.
“He is a troubled person. Whether it is because of mental illness or issues with drugs or alcohol, I wish she would have learned a little bit more before getting involved with someone like that," Lindo said.
Gray is now facing a first-degree murder charge and a charge of attempted murder. That second charge is because a third passenger in the car tried to help Smith when Gray allegedly ran over her repeatedly. That third person wasn’t injured.
Lindo said that she believed the third passenger ran away to get help. Investigators said Gray turned himself in to the Essex County Sheriff’s Office nearly six hours after the incident.
Lindo spoke exclusively with CBS 6 News Monday and explained how painful this has been for her family. Lindo said her sister was a woman with a big heart, who would do anything for loved ones and friends. She loved to cook and had in years past worked as a cook at a local nursing home in the Tappahannock area.
Lindo said her sister moved in with Gray a few months after meeting him and the troubles began. Lindo explained that Smith became isolated from her family and she didn’t have much face-to-face contact with her for the past several months. When she did, it was often through text messages. She said she believed Gray and Smith's relationship lasted for about one year.
Additionally, Lindo said several months back her sister gave her a journal that she was keeping that detailed alleged abuse at the hands of Gray. She said her sister started keeping the journal when the relationship with Gray turned very violent. Lindo said she hoped her sister’s own words will help prosecutors paint a clear picture of who Gray is and what he allegedly did to Smith.
Lindo said it was heartbreaking that she and her family could not get Smith to break away from the turbulent relationship with Gray, despite numerous violent incidents between them. She said it’s been difficult explaining to her own five-year-old daughter that “Yo-Yo,” as she was lovingly called, would not be coming over any more for family visits. Smith was laid to rest on Sunday.
Lindo said the other thing that keeps them going is being there for Smith’s 14-year-old son from a previous relationship.
"I think that's the biggest thing helping us get through this. We have to be strong for her son. She would not want us to mourn but it’s still difficult," Lindo said.
As a result, Lindo says they are now focused on making sure that Smith’s son RaSeandre has a bright future. An account has been established to assist with the teen’s education. Lindo says the 529 account #11201567 is in ReSeandre’s name and can be sent via mail. To mail an inVEST contribution, send it to P.O. Box 759226, Baltimore, MD 21275-9226.
Now Lindo and her family are praying for justice for Yolanda and that this tragedy will give others in troubled relationships strength to get help.
“Get out while you can, especially if you have kids. You don’t want kids to see this and think that it’s normal behavior. You don’t want the cycle to repeat. Break the cycle. They don’t have to stay in abusive relationships. Their lives are more important than that,” Lindo said.