Wakefield man struck, killed by drunk driver; community gathers for prayer vigil

By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: February 15, 2019 | 3:45 p.m.

SUSSEX – Driving while intoxicated was the apparent cause of the death of a Wakefield man who was struck by a vehicle while walking down East Main Street last week.

According to Sussex County Sheriff Ernest Giles, a call came in at 11:57 p.m. on Saturday night, Feb. 2 from a woman who said that her sister had struck something on Main Street.  Emergency vehicles were immediately dispatched to the scene, Giles said, where Chrishard Lamont “Ching” Gatling, 32, was found dead on the street due to trauma.

Giles said the driver, Constance Casper, 65, of Suffolk, said she had been visiting her sister and was driving home when she ran over something, and, because she did not have a cell phone with her, she went back to her sister’s residence and had the sister call 911.    Upon investigation by the sheriff’s office and Virginia State Police, Giles continued, it was learned that the driver had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit and subsequently she was taken into custody on a DUI offense related to the call.  

Casper was released the next day on $3,000 secured bond.  Law enforcement is not releasing further information at this time as the investigation is still ongoing.  

Chrishard, a lifelong resident of Wakefield and graduate of the Class of 2004 from Sussex Central High School, was employed at Plantation Peanuts.  A candlelight prayer vigil was held for Gatling last week outside Mars Hill AME Zion Church in Wakefield.

The vigil at the church was held in commemoration of the deaths of two local citizens.  Event organizer Gloria Holloman said that the vigil was prompted by the deaths of Rita Gray Mason who recently died of cancer and Chrishard Gatling Turner, who died on Feb. 3 after being struck by a drunk driver while walking down East Main Street, as both losses are keenly felt in the community.

With Reverend Willie Dixon, Pastor of Mars Hill AME Zion Church presiding, Reverend Lisa Barnes shared scripture, which was followed by Holloman sharing remarks about what a vigil is. Then Valerie Ricks, a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, delivered remarks which Holloman later described as, “phenomenal” because as her daughter was killed by a drunk driver she was reliving a flashback, but was able to give a good message to Mrs. Bernice Turner, mother of the victim. 

Ricks was followed by Wakefield Councilman, Jim Long, who delivered a prayer for Wakefield and a very poignant personal story about the tragedy of the loss of a child or grandchild.  Then Reverend Betty Clary of the First Baptist Church of Wakefield gave a community prayer.  Next, Sheriff Ernest Giles – who, earlier, had quietly gone to his vehicle and returned with a megaphone which he stood and held to amplify the voices of the speakers who had been difficult to hear in the crowd – urged the families of those who died to look around at the gathered mourners and feel the love gathered there for them.    

The crowd lit their candles from one another, signifying unity and community.

The speaking part of the evening event ended with a prayer of comfort by Reverend Charles Cypress, pastor of Wakefield Outreach Center, a prayer of forgiveness by Reverend Lewis Allen, pastor of Pocahontas Temple Baptist Church, and a prayer of love and peace by Reverend Randel Barnes, Associate pastor of Mars Hill AME Zion Church.  

Those in attendance had each brought their own candles, and their symbolic lighting, one from another, signified everyone coming together in support of the families who lost loved ones and of each other as a community.  Finally, the balloons for and around the families ascended toward heaven in the candlelight.   

“My heart goes out to the family,” said Sheriff Giles afterward.  “This shows how a community can come together.  The speakers when they gave their comments, that was very touching.  And the vigil was really nice for the family and community – a healing process.  The pastor and staff of Mars Hill Baptist Church did an excellent job. There were so many people out there – I’d estimate about 160.  And what happened in the community to cause this? We just can’t keep a blind eye to anything going on.  I urge people to speak up.  If you see something, speak up! We keep saying we want our children to grow up better than we did.  Things can’t get solved just by speaking among ourselves.”  

 “An occasion like this,” said Holloman, “you’re not expecting death, but death came up, caused by someone else.  So we have to come together as a community. The driver was under the influence, and God put in my spirit to organize the candlelight vigil.  We just really thank the community and all the speakers who came for their support. We just felt like it was important to try to pull the whole community together and show love for one another.”

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