POLK CITY, Fla. — A beloved Florida librarian who was run over by four teens as she tried to stop them following an assault of her son last month has died of her injuries.
Suzette Marie Penton, 52, of Polk City, died on Nov. 25, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. She had been in critical condition since the Nov. 9 van attack outside her home.
The attempted murder charge against the driver of the van, Elijah Paul Stansell, 18, of Winter Haven, has been upgraded to one of first-degree murder. Stansell is also charged with burglary with assault and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
“He didn’t clip her,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a news conference Tuesday. “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.”
The minors in question, Raven Sutton, 16, Kimberly Stone, 15, and Hannah Eubank, 14, are charged as adults with attempted murder and burglary with assault.
Watch Tuesday’s emotional news conference below.
Judd said that the van that Stansell was driving belonged to Westwood Missionary Baptist Church, where his father is a pastor. He had permission to use the van, the sheriff said.
Penton was the librarian at the Polk City Community Library. Polk City is a small, nearly crime-free community of about 1,500 people outside of Lakeland.
“It’s a wonderful community. Suzette Penton helped make it a wonderful community with the work she did with the children at the library,” Judd said. “She always went above and beyond. She was known and loved by the people of Polk City.”
“Every kid in town loved Suzette because she’s just that type of person. She was flamboyant. She was just an outgoing, wonderful person,” Ann Blethen, a longtime friend of Penton’s, told WFLA in Tampa.
“She was an awesome mother that was willing to die for her kids and, unfortunately, she did,” Blethen told the news station. “My heart is broken and it’s broken as much for the kids as it is Suzette.”
Judd said Stansell allegedly went to Penton’s home the day of the attack to confront her son, Hunter Penton, over an ongoing romantic dispute. Stansell was dating Stone, Hunter Penton’s ex-girlfriend.
The group waited in the van across the street from the home as Suzette Penton and her younger son left for a trip to the store, the sheriff said. After she was gone, Stansell, Sutton and Eubank got out of the van while Stone, who Judd described as the instigator of the entire incident, stayed in the van.
A probable cause affidavit in the case alleges that deputies arrived shortly before 3 p.m. Monday at the Pentons’ Polk City home, where they spoke to Hunter Penton. The teen told deputies he’d heard a knock on his front door but, because his family normally uses the side door, he went and answered that door, which leads out onto an attached carport.
When he opened the door, he said, Stansell, Eubank and Sutton were in the yard. The teen said he recognized Stansell as Stone’s new boyfriend and Eubank as a classmate.
Read the probable cause affidavit below.
Hunter Penton walked out onto his carport, at which point he said Stansell began hitting him. When the boy fled back into the house, Stansell followed, the affidavit states.
Sutton, who the victim was later able to identify for investigators, and Eubank also went inside, with Eubank using her cellphone to film the attack. As they continued beating Hunter Penton, Suzette Penton came home and the teens fled.
“Suzette actually sees the fight,” Judd said Tuesday. “She gets out and goes to the van in her car. Suzette is trying to take photographs of the getaway van. Elijah Stansell runs over her, completely over her.
“She has tire tracks on her body where he runs totally over her.”
Investigators wrote in the affidavit that three eyewitnesses gave consistent accounts of what took place outside the family’s home, including the fact that Stansell made no attempt to go around Suzette Penton before striking her.
Jeff Goolsby, a utilities supervisor for the city, was one of the witnesses, WFLA reported. He followed the van and called 911.
“I’m trying to stay back. I don’t know if these people have a gun,” Goolsby said, according to the news station. They just mowed that poor lady down.”
Detectives were also able to pull security footage from multiple cameras in the Pentons’ neighborhood.
The exterior footage shows the teens going onto the carport and Stansell attacking Hunter Penton, the affidavit states. Footage from in the home shows how the attack continued inside.
The cameras also caught Suzette Penton following the teens into the street and taking photos of the van and its license plate as Stansell drove forward into her body.
Suzette Penton was rushed to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, where she was found to have suffered a traumatic brain injury involving a skull fracture and severe bleeding in her brain, the court document states. She also suffered a broken leg and fluid in her lungs.
WFLA obtained portions of that footage, which can be seen below.
The teens were pulled over about seven miles away by deputies and Auburndale police officers, authorities said. During questioning, they admitted to going to the scene of the attack to confront Stone’s ex-boyfriend.
Stansell admitted to hitting Suzette Penton but said he thought he’d struck her with the van’s side mirror, Judd said Tuesday.
“The driver made admissions and said, ‘I didn’t know I ran over her. I didn’t know.’ Come on, man!” the sheriff said.
The investigation turned up information that Stone and Hunter Penton had been engaging in ongoing arguments since their breakup. According to the affidavit, Stone had sent him written threats on social media about a “hit” and said she’d “have her new boyfriend ‘handle it.’”
Stone had been suspended from school because of her online behavior, Judd said Tuesday.
Detectives determined that Stone showed Stansell and the other teens where her ex-boyfriend lived and stayed behind in the van “while they went to ‘handle it’ at her direction,” the document states.
As Stansell and his friends sit in jail cells, Suzette Penton’s family is preparing to lay her to rest. A celebration of her life is scheduled for Sunday afternoon in Polk City.
In a post on his Facebook page last month, Hunter Penton paid tribute to his mother with a family photo of Suzette Penton and her children.
“No matter what, our world always revolves around you, Momma,” the teen wrote.
Judd said authorities are working to get justice for the family.
“You can be sure of one thing: We’re going to see that the criminal justice system holds (the suspects) accountable, because whatever they meant when they started, he ended it with murder, and Suzette won’t be there when her children get married,” Judd said. “She won’t ever get to see her grandchildren, and they won’t have their mother, and it never should have happened.”
Cox Media Group