POLK CITY, Fla. - Florida law enforcement officials have upgraded the charges against one of the teenagers accused of running over a beloved local librarian, who later died, as she tried to defend her son from an attack.
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. On Tuesday, the office announced the eldest of the four people accused of being involved –18-year-old “ringleader” Elijah Stansell – would be charged with first-degree murder.
“He is the one that was driving the vehicle,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a press conference, “and he is the one that ran over and feloniously murdered a lady that was doing nothing but trying to gather photographs of suspects who attacked her child at their home in this quaint, safe little community.”
The teens – Raven Sutton and Kimberly Stone, ages 16, and 14-year-old Hannah Eubank and Stansell – allegedly went to Penton’s home to “beat up” the 52-year-old’s son, who was Stone’s ex-boyfriend, police said. They took a van that belonged to a local church, where Stansell’s father served as one of the pastors, and traveled to Penton’s Polk City home shortly before 3 p.m. on Nov. 9.
Stansell was allegedly Stone’s new boyfriend, and had planned, with the others, to confront and attack Penton’s son in connection with what Judd called “a post-dating ongoing disagreement.”
When they arrived at the home, Stansell, Sutton, and Eubank went to the front of the home after they watched Penton leave to run an errand, Judd said. Stone allegedly stayed in the van.
At that time, Penton’s son “has no idea that they’re coming up there to fight him,” Judd said. “Elijah immediately confronts him in the carport and starts beating him up where a fight ensues.”
Eubank allegedly took photos and video of the fight while the two teens attacked.
Penton unexpectedly returns to the house to find her son being beaten, police said. As the trio retreat to the church van, she follows, allegedly intent on capturing a photograph of the van to show to the police, Judd said.
That’s when tragedy struck.
“Elijah Stansell runs over her. Completely over her,” Judd said. “She has tire tracks on her body where he runs totally over her.”
The quartet then fled the scene in the van, but not before a witness – a city utility worker – called 911 and followed the vehicle.
An arrest affidavit said the crash left Penton with a traumatic brain injury and several broken bones. She succumbed to her injuries on Nov. 25.
Stansell was originally charged with attempted felony murder, burglary with assault and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
His charges have since been upgraded to include first-degree murder. He was later also charged with lewd and lascivious battery on a minor on a victim 15 years old, police said.
Stansell is currently unemployed and has no prior criminal history, police said.
Meanwhile, charges against the other three remain the same: attempted felony murder and burglary with assault. They will now be charged as adults, Judd said.
“What started out as a bunch of kids [who were] gonna go up there and be a thug, gonna be a tough person, gonna beat up a guy over, because he used to date Kimberly, turned into a murder – a murder,” Judd said. “It should have never happened.”
The sheriff lauded Penton as a “beautiful lady” who was “so well-thought-of.”
“It’s a small tight-knit community where Suzette was a very important part of developing the young children in the community,” he said. “You see, she taught people right from wrong. She taught people how to do things the right way.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.