POLK CITY, Fla. – A Florida woman has died weeks after a group of teenagers intentionally ran over her as she defended her son, who had been assaulted by the teens as part of an ongoing romantic dispute, deputies said.
Suzette Penton, a librarian in Polk City, died last week from injuries suffered in the Nov. 9 crash, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office.
“Suzette Penton helped make (Polk City) a wonderful community with the work she did with the children at the library. She always went above and beyond... she would dress up and paint up as she had programs for the young children in and around Polk city. She was known and loved by the people in the city. She was also known as a protective mother,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Tuesday.
An arrest affidavit said the crash left Penton with a traumatic brain injury involving a severe brain bleed and skull fracture, a broken leg, a ligament injury to her left knee and she was aspirating fluid into her lungs. Before her death, she was unresponsive and intubated in critical condition in the intensive care unit.
The sheriff said Penton was run over by a church van driven by 18-year-old Elijah Stansell, who intentionally ran her over without trying to swerve or avoid the crash.
“If you look at the video, you can see clearly that he had the opportunity to back up to drive around her, or not to hit the gas and run over her. He didn’t clip her,” Judd said. “He didn’t try to turn away from her and accidentally hit her and she fell down. She was squared up and he ran over her, directly over her, rolled her underneath the van.”
Deputies said Stansell went to Penton’s home on Nov. 9 to confront her son, who is the ex-boyfriend of his girlfriend, Kimberly Stone, who recently turned 16 while in custody.
Stone and the victim’s son had broken up about six months prior but were still getting into a “post-dating disagreement” on social media that involved “talking trash,” “rants” and Stone threatening to have Stansell beat the boy up, according to the sheriff.
Stone’s school had tried to intervene to stop the altercation and chose to suspend her.
The same day that she was notified of her suspension, she’s accused of getting with her best friend, 14-year-old Hannah Eubank, and another friend, 16-year-old Raven Sutton, and they all went with Stansell to the victim’s home to confront Stone’s ex-boyfriend, records show.
Stansell drove a maintenance-type van he routinely borrowed from Westwood Missionary Baptist, where his dad is a pastor.
Records show Stone directed Stansell on how to get to the house and the group waited at a nearby park until Penton left with her younger son to run an errand. Once she was gone, Judd said Stansell, Sutton and Eubank went to the house and knocked on the front door. Stone stayed in the van.
When the boy came out of a side door to see what was happening, they attacked him, according to authorities.
“(The boy) has no idea that they’re coming up there to fight. When he comes out the side door, Elijah immediately confronts him in the carport and starts beating him up where a fight ensues. We see that (the boy) tried to or either was forced into back, into the house, as a result of the fight. Elijah is fighting with (the boy), Raven gets a couple of shots in during the fight, the best we can tell with the pieces of video we have, and Hannah is taking photographs or video in this,” Judd said.
Not long after the fight began, Penton arrived home and the teens went back to the van. Realizing something was wrong, Penton went into the road to take pictures of the van so she could help identify the people who attacked her son.
“When she comes back, we see that our ringleader here, along with the other two just kind of hurry off, back to the van. Suzette actually sees the fight. She gets out and goes to the van in her car. Suzanne is trying to take photographs of the getaway van. Elijah Stansell, Elijah Stansell runs over her, completely over her. She has tire tracks on her body where he runs totally over her,” Judd said.
Video shows the van sped off after the crash. According to a 911 call, a Polk County utilities worker saw what happened and followed the van in his work vehicle until deputies could pull the suspects over.
“I’m trying to stay back, I don’t know if they have a gun or what but they just mowed that poor lady down,” the man said in a six-minute 911 call.
Judd said Stansell claimed that he didn’t know he ran over Penton while Stone was very “flippant” and told a detective that she didn’t want to hear that Penton was likely going to die as a result of her injuries.
Stansell’s charge will be upgraded from attempted murder to murder. The other teens will not face murder charges since they weren’t driving at the time but will be tried as adults rather than in the juvenile justice system.
“What started out as a bunch of kids gonna go out there and be a thug, gonna be a tough person, going to beat up a guy over, because he used to date Kimberly, turned into a murder. A murder. And (Stansell) controlled and could have stopped the murder but he’s the one, he’s the driver that in the church van ran over and killed this beautiful lady who was so well thought of and the city librarian,” Judd said.
Judd called the crime “horrific” and a “senseless tragedy.”
“You can be sure one day, we’re going to see that the criminal justice system holds them accountable because whatever they meant when they started, he ended it with murder and Suzette won’t be there when her children get married. She won’t ever get to see her grandchildren and they won’t have their mother and it never should have happened,” Judd said.