Platte County couple mourns loss of son in Arkansas
Platte County couple is struggling through a tragic twist in the accidental death of their son. Not only are they mourning the worst loss imaginable, they also are fighting the system for justice.
This week as Stacie and Jason Brayfield continue to mourn the death of their adult son, Preston, who was killed by a drunk driver, they were meeting with a prosecutor to convince him the driver deserves more punishment than the misdemeanor with which he currently has been charged.
The couple met Tuesday morning with a prosecutor to plead for a penalty stiffer than the system may invoke in the tiny town of Tyronza, Arkansas, which is near Jonesboro.
Preston Brayfield, 22, was a road construction worker for Louis-Company, based in Grain Valley, which specializes in heavy highway construction, according to the company website.
At 7:40 pm. on May 30, Preston was cleaning up after a day on the job site, working the side of a bridge on U.S. 555 in a small Arkansas town when he was struck and killed by a drunk driver.
The lack of skid marks caused investigating officers to determine the driver, 26-year-old Kristopher Gould of Jonesboro, Ark., never attempted to stop. An array of bottled liquor, including an opened whiskey bottle and beer can, combined with the driver’s slurred speech, and admission he had been drinking, caused officials to believe he may have been intoxicated. The accident report also states that Gould had “bloodshot, watery eyes and slurred speech” and admitted to Arkansas State Trooper Tommy Fitzgerald, who responded to the accident, that he had six to seven beers earlier that day.
But Gould refused to take a breathalyzer test. Instead, the officer obtained a warrant for a blood test at an area hospital, according to the report. Officials were waiting for the results of that test to determine if Gould was, in fact, intoxicated at the time of the accident.
The charges could be upgraded once the report is in, Stacie Brayfield said, but evidence on the scene points toward alleged intoxication. In a field, where Gould’s car finally came to a halt, lay this incriminating evidence: “an open beer can in a black neoprene can koozie, which indicated that V-1 operator was drinking while driving,” Fitzgerald wrote in the accident report.
Fitzgerald also found empty beer cans and boxes and an opened bottle of whiskey, according to his report on the crash.
Gould’s vehicle crashed through construction cones and other barriers before striking Preston, who was using a leaf blower to clean debris at the job site. A lack of blood at the scene probably meant Preston died on impact, investigators told his parents. A coroner pronounced him dead at the scene.
The vehicle, which highway patrolmen suspect was speeding, left no skid marks, causing them to deduce that the driver did not attempt to slow down prior to the crash.
“After impact, the worker was lifted into the air and struck the top driver side corner of the front windshield, determined by the blood evidence.” according to the incident report.
Gould’s vehicle, a 2010 Chevy Impala, struck Preston and hit a ditch adjacent to the highway, went airborne and flipped over several times before coming to rest in a nearby field, the report stated.
Stacie said she later learned a bystander stood guard over Preston’s body, which landed near the center line of the roadway, to prevent other drivers from striking him again.
Preston sustained multiple injuries from the impact, including multiple fractures to his ribs, hands, pelvis, and hips. His nose was nearly detached, and his hair was removed from his scalp, his right leg was severed below the knee, said Stacie, who is 43. The left side of his face and skull also were crushed.
The couple was unable to see Preston’s body immediately following the accident because it was in state custody, where an autopsy was performed to determine the extent of his injuries. Stacie told the local coroner that she needed to see her son before the funeral, but officials said his body was “not viewable” due to his extensive injuries.
The coroner arranged for an Arkansas funeral home to clean up his body so the parents could view him. Because they concealed much of his injuries, the viewing added a measure of peace, she said.
The Brayfields say they were appalled to learn that Gould went home following the accident, spending no time in jail after having posted a bond that was set at only $500. When the couple inquired as to why, officials told them the driver was deemed not a threat because this was his first suspected DUI.
But the couple say they suspect local officials, for whatever reason, are protecting the driver from more serious charges.
“He is a free man,” Stacie said during a telephone interview, citing what they consider an irony in a system that allows the uninjured driver to return home following a fatal accident for which he was responsible.
“We can’t even make this stuff up,” she said.
The initial misdemeanor charges are punishable by probation or up to seven years in jail, according to a search of charges on the internet. However, if the charges are increased to a felony, he could serve more prison time, the internet site states.
“I think they (Arkansas area officials) think Preston’s just a kid from Missouri,” his mother said, adding that she fears the community’s sympathies are with Gould because they know him.
To the Brayfields, it seems as if this is only one in a string of ironies, including the fact that the driver, who was alone in the car, had a car seat safely secured in the backseat of the vehicle “just like a good dad,” Stacie said. “But he couldn’t take care of our son.”
Stacie said Preston, when not traveling for work, lived at home with his parents. The Brayfields live not far from Park Hill High School.
The Brayfields say they are upset about the “nonchalant” way Preston’s boss called to notify them of their son’s death.
Stacie said her husband, Jason, 44, who received the call on his cell phone, reacted by letting out a yell, which alerted Stacie something awful had happened before Jason hung up and relayed the grim news.
Because the boss provided no details, the parents spent the next several hours trying to learn the details of the accident, including where their son’s body had been taken. They called area hospitals and a local funeral home before finally learning they could not see his body for more than a week because the coroner’s office was conducting an autopsy to determine cause of death.
She said their son’s name was broadcast on local television news before the boss had informed Preston’s parents.
A victim’s advocate told the Brayfields that the level of the charges are not due to community connections.
“I don’t believe that,” Stacie said. “In Missouri, we don’t mess around,” she said. “You hit a construction worker you’re going to go to jail.”
In addition to his parents, Preston also left five siblings, who also are struggling to deal with his death. They include a 12-year-old brother, Mason, and 11-year-old twins.
Stacie says the youngest are suffering from nightmares about the accident and fear that trips the parents take from home will result in them not returning.
Preston often drove Mason to wrestling tournaments. The two were remarkably close and considered each other best friends, despite the age difference, Stacie said. Preston, a 2016 graduate of Excelsior Springs High School, helped by playing chauffeur because their father works out of state, she said.
Dozens of people from throughout the country attended Preston’s recent visitation and memorial service at a Kearney, Mo. funeral home. Although Stacie is not sure exactly how many attended, she said mourners filled two rooms at the funeral home.
Stacie said she and her husband are braced for a final fight for Preston.
“I will be a pain in their butt,” she said of the Arkansas prosecutor’s office. “Preston will get justice one way or the other-Preston will get justice somehow.”