August 21, 2000

Bus Driver in Evans Tragedy Files Motion for Dismissal of May Indictment

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In late May, a Tompkins County grand jury handed down a 12-count indictment against Timothy Stranger, the operator of the bus that struck and killed 21-year-old Cornell junior Michelle Evans on March 16.

But in a supression hearing last Friday, the attorney for the former Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit driver filed motions, arguing that the indictment against Stranger should be dismissed on the grounds of faulty evidence.

The case against Stranger has yet to go to trial.

Stranger’s attorney, Richard Wallace, brought witnesses before Tompkins County Court Judge M. John Sherman to show the breath and blood tests taken at the scene and later at Cayuga Medical Center were unreliable and were administered without Stranger’s consent.

In addition, Wallace questioned Derek Barr, the Ithaca police officer who first responded to the accident and administered a breathalizer test to Stranger. Barr testified that he had mistakenly thrown away the notes he took at the accident scene after filing his report.

Barr testified that although he could not recall exactly when he had thrown away the notes, he did remember their contents, which included a brief description of the accident scene, the time Stranger’s blood was drawn, and a note that Stranger told him him he had been out drinking the night before.

Justice Sherman will decide during the coming weeks whether the oversight would be egregious enough to impose sanctions against the officer and strike from record much of the evidence against Stranger, explained Deputy District Attorney Gary Surdell.

The most serious of the charges filed against Stranger are second-degree counts of manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter and assault, all Class C or D felonies.

The indictment had also alleged that 37-year-old Stranger had been drinking alcohol during his shift and had smoked marijuana while on duty. Stranger, a five-year bus driver for TCAT, has since been fired.

TCAT General Manager Rodney Ghearing had said that TCAT’s decision to fire Stranger was based on the evidence that Stranger had alcohol in his system.

Stefanie Stranger, Stranger’s ex-wife, was with the former bus driver when he arrived by van to Cayuga Medical Center for tests.

She gave testimony at the hearing about Timothy Stranger, “he was extremely upset, and he didn’t, to my belief, know what was going on,” Stefanie Stranger said.

Stefanie Stranger also said that although Timothy Stranger was not restrained, he also was not told he could use a phone outside the emergency room to call a lawyer.

Stefanie Stranger had tried to call her ex-husband’s lawyer at that time, Lenore Neerbasch, via mobile phone. She, however, testified that she was instructed to shut off her phone because it would interfere with emergency room equipment.

In an affidavit filed at the Tompkins County Courthouse, Timothy Stranger said that he was ill, vomiting at the scene of the accident, during the van ride to the hospital and between the tests. He also said that he was given medication he believed was for shock, administered orally and by injection.

Timothy Stranger, a Cornell University employee at the time, struck Evans while making a right turn in the rain from Thurston Avenue onto Wait Avenue bordering University property.

Witnesses estimated that over 60 passengers were aboard the 37 seat Orion bus, many of them crowded past the yellow line at the front, blocking the driver’s vision through the side door, side windows and the left side of the front window.

Investigators had discovered six bottles of beer on the bus and estimated Stranger’s blood alcohol content at between .04 and .07, above the legal limit for operating a commerical vehicle.

Stranger had a prior Driving While Intoxicated conviction in 1991, before he started working for TCAT.

Archived article by Yoni Levine