A Salem woman who served more than two years in custody for robbing a pair of local banks will have to return to prison for an even longer stretch after committing a string of recent probation violations.
Tiffany Rae Wright-Neil was 25 when, in January 2016, she pleaded no contest to holding up branches of Carter Bank & Trust in Roanoke and Salem the previous spring.
Though unarmed, she had used handwritten notes to demand cash from two different tellers and made off with a combined total of $2,335. Wright-Neil acknowledged that she used a large chunk of the money to buy heroin, but also to get water service restored to her home and to make a car payment.
At her sentencing hearing on those convictions, Wright-Neil got 2½ years to serve. But she carried just over 27 years in suspended time and, upon her release in June 2017, she was ordered to be on supervised probation indefinitely.
For a while after she got out, Wright-Neil seemed to thrive, officials said, but by the end of summer 2019 she had a set of new criminal convictions: assault and battery in Roanoke, petit larceny and failure to appear in Roanoke County.
“She had done so well for so long, [then] she just kind of went over a cliff,” her probation officer, Andrew Martin, said Thursday in Salem Circuit Court, adding that for several months she had dropped out of contact with him completely.
At Thursday’s revocation hearing, Judge David Carson found Wright-Neil in violation of her probation and ordered her to serve an additional four years, two for each of her 2016 robbery convictions.
These latest events constitute the most recent chapter in Wright-Neil’s story, a series of misfortunes that has been unfolding across more than a decade and a half.
In 2006, while still a teen, the car she was driving was hit head-on by a drunk driver in Franklin County. Wright-Neil’s father and her close friend were both killed in the crash, and she suffered broken bones in her neck, legs and face. Months of recuperation followed, and her defense attorney, Greg Phillips, said that during that period she was prescribed Oxycontin in large doses; at one point, Phillips said, she was taking up to six 30 mg pills a day. When her physician lost his license in 2015, Wright-Neil said she was “red flagged” by local doctors and pharmacists, was denied access to medications, and, soon after, began using heroin to satisfy the opioid habit she had developed.
In her testimony Thursday, Wright-Neil, who has two children, claimed that her post-prison relapse began in July 2018, after the death of her grandmother.
“When her grandmother died, she made choices that were poor,” Phillips acknowledged in court. “Her time is going to run out at some point, but I believe in Ms. Wright-Neil and I think society should believe in her.”
Although she completed the Alpha drug treatment program during her earlier incarceration, Phillips asked that she be able to undergo its later phase of “after care.” It was unclear Thursday whether that would be possible.