Murder trial begins for Safco shooting suspect

Published 6:03 pm Monday, July 24, 2023

The murder trial of a Carrollton man accused of fatally shooting a coworker began July 24.

Preston Kyle Thomas, now 25, allegedly shot and killed 26-year-old Rakim Breeden of Como, North Carolina, on Sept. 23, 2021, while the two were employed at the Safco Distribution Center near Windsor.

Thomas is charged with first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Prosecutors and Preston’s attorney, Timothy Clancy, expect the trial to last two days.

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Isle of Wight County sheriff’s deputies who investigated the scene alleged Breeden to have knocked Thomas’s cellphone off a ledge and damaged it, prompting an argument between the two. Thomas then allegedly retrieved a gun from his car and shot Breeden multiple times during a second argument while the two were on break. Breeden died en route to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

First to take the witness stand on July 24 was Lance Simms, senior distribution center manager at Safco’s Windsor facility.

Simms testified that he heard a “loud popping sound” the day of the shooting and found Breeden on the floor of the receiving dock where trucks are loaded, bleeding badly.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips then showed video recordings from Safco’s security cameras that Simms had provided to law enforcement. Simms identified Thomas and Breeden in the videos and testified that in one, Thomas appeared to “spit” on Breeden prior to the shooting based on body posture, though Simms acknowledged that Thomas’ face wasn’t visible from the camera angle.

Clancy, however, contends Breeden to have been the aggressor. 

Simms had testified under questioning by Phillips that Breeden was a “much larger” man than Thomas. During cross-examination by Clancy, Simms testified that the videos show Breeden having at one point removed his shirt and struck Thomas, and that another employee at the scene – identified as Raheem Madison – had attempted to hold an “agitated” Breeden back.

Breeden then “charged” toward Thomas just before the shooting, Simms testified under cross-examination by Clancy.

Thomas surrendered to authorities on April 14, 2022, after eluding law enforcement for nearly seven months. Sheriff’s deputies and a Virginia State Police tactical team had attempted to apprehend Thomas the day of the crime at his last known address in the Eagle Harbor apartment complex, where they spotted a car allegedly belonging to Thomas that had been seen leaving the scene of the shooting – but didn’t find Thomas himself.

Clancy, in his opening statement, said his client had fled the shooting scene “in panic.”

Thomas was initially charged with second-degree murder, but prosecutors later upgraded the charge to first-degree, which Virginia law defines as murder “by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing,” or murder in the commission of another crime. Thomas pleaded not guilty at his September 2022 arraignment.