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Driver in fatal crash reportedly told police he thought he was flying plane

A Virginia man charged with manslaughter in the death of a noted Civil War historian told police he thought he was taking off in a plane, not driving a car at an estimated 100 miles per hour, when he caused the fatal accident, prosecutors said Friday.

Robert Stevens Gentil, 32, was charged Tuesday with manslaughter in the death of Richmond historian Elizabeth Pryor, who has written about Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. At a Friday court appearance, many of Gentil's fellow congregants from First Presbyterian Church, came to support the suspect, who suffers from a mental condition, according to his attorney.

Witnesses said Gentil appeared to be going as much as 100 miles per hour for several blocks when he plowed into Pryor's car Monday. Attorney Ted Bruns said his client is subject to manic episodes that they occur without warning. He said Gentil was under stress because his wife is pregnant and they are in the process of buying their first home.

A judge set a bond of $15,000 and ordered Gentil taken directly to his psychiatrist and would be hospitalized.

Pryor’s car was struck at a high rate of speed from the rear at about 2:45 p.m. Monday afternoon.

Pryor, 64, was pronounced dead at the scene. She was a historian and writer who had moved to Richmond in 2009 to pursue her interest in Civil War era history after a 20-year career with the U.S. State Department, according to the newspaper.

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