A Stafford County man was ordered Thursday to serve eight years in prison in connection with a dirt bike crash last year in which his friend was killed.

Franklin Delano Hess III, 26, ran into the back of a dirt bike ridden by 26-year-old Thomas Clayton Langston on Aug. 4 in the area of Inez Way and Andrew Chapel Road in Stafford. Langston died as the result of the collision and Hess suffered serious injuries.

At the end of an emotional hearing Thursday in Stafford Circuit Court, Hess was sentenced to a total of 10 years, with two years suspended, on an involuntary manslaughter conviction. The sentence handed down by Judge Michael Levy exceeded the recommended state sentencing guidelines, which called for a maximum active sentence of just under 5 1/2 years.

According to the evidence presented by Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen, Hess, Langston and others had gathered that day at a home on Andrew Chapel Road to drink and ride dirt bikes. Toward the end of the day, Hess and Langston went out for a final ride.

Langston was getting ready to make a left turn onto Inez Way when Hess crashed into him from behind at a high rate of speed. Neither man was wearing protective gear.

Hess, who spent two weeks in the hospital after the incident and has lost much of his vision, said Thursday that he was blinded by oncoming car lights and didn’t see Langston until it was too late. He said that he’d met Langston in jail three years earlier and considered him a close friend.

“I am so sorry,” Hess said Thursday as he read from a letter directed toward Langston’s parents. “It’s been eating me up inside. If tears could build a stairway, I’d walk right up to Heaven and bring [Langston] home.”

Olsen argued that it was time Hess received a significant sentence. Citing a lengthy criminal record that includes multiple drug- and theft-related convictions, Olsen said Hess has been breaking the law for years and has never changed his behavior.

Olsen noted that even after killing his friend, Hess picked up a new drug charge in Spotsylvania County a few months later.

“The criminal justice system has given [Hess] chance after chance,” Olsen said. “He can’t be rehabilitated. The only thing we can do to protect ourselves is to lock him up for an extended period.”

Defense attorney Terence Patton noted that Hess had no drugs in his system on Aug. 4 and his blood-alcohol content of .046 was well below the legal limit. Patton said Hess is clearly remorseful for what happened and is suffering physically and mentally.

“The person Mr. Olsen is talking about is not this same person,” Patton said.

In handing down the sentence, Levy talked about Hess’ record and noted that he was on probation at the time of the offense.

Thursday’s sentencing might not be the end of the bad legal news for Hess. He still has a trial scheduled in Stafford on July 23 on drug charges and trials in Spotsylvania in September on drug and probation-violation charges.

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Keith Epps: 540/374-5404

kepps@freelancestar.com

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