January 25, 2001

Stranger Receives One-Year Sentence

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Timothy Stranger, the driver of the TCAT bus that hit and killed 21-year-old junior Michelle Evans on March 16 last year, was sentenced earlier this month to one year in the Tompkins County jail.

The sentence came less than two months after Stranger pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide, a Class E felony. Handed down in Tompkins County Court by Judge M. John Sherman, the sentence was the result of a plea bargain that effectively ended the criminal lawsuit filed against Stranger last spring.

In addition to the one-year sentence, Sherman revoked Stranger’s driver license and imposed a $1,500 fine for two misdemeanor charges — driving while abilities impaired by drugs and operating a commercial motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol — both to which Stranger pleaded guilty last November.

Stranger admitted to drinking beer and using marijuana between his shifts the evening of the accident. What impact, if any, these actions had on the accident remains questionable, according to Defense Attorney Richard Wallace.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” he added.

Patrol officer Derek Barr was unable to produce his personal notes with the results of the drug tests taken at the crime scene, Wallace explained. This left “no specific recollection of the precise contents of his notes,” according to court records.

Two hours after the accident, blood samples taken at the hospital revealed that Stranger had only a 0.03 percent blood alcohol content — just below the 0.04 legal definition for operating a commercial vehicle under the influence of alcohol, according to District Attorney Gary Surdell.

The settlement was a compromise between the two parties involved to avoid more complicated legal wrangling, according to Wallace.

Shortly after the trial, Stranger was escorted to the Tompkins County jail, where he is now serving his sentence.

Wallace expects that Stranger will be released in eight months for good behavior and “only then can he try to pick up the pieces in his life.”

In sentencing Stranger, Judge Sherman said that he hoped Evans’ death would encourage Stranger to seek help for his “substance abuse problem.”

“Until you truly accept the depth of that problem, you will continue to be a danger to society,” Sherman advised.

The single father of two young children, the 37-year-old Enfield resident “is sick, absolutely heart-sick” over the tragedy, Wallace added.

“It’s a shame that this happened to such a family man,” Brian Goodell, United Auto Workers 2300 representative, said.

Student Assembly President Uzo Asonye ’02 spoke not about Stranger but of Evans’ family. “I’m just happy that the family can have justice and closure to such a sad incident,” he said.

A civil case involving the family of Michelle Evans versus Stranger, TCAT and TCAT’s three business partners — Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca and Cornell University — remains to be settled.

In an effort to improve campus safety, the City of Ithaca rebuilt the fatal intersection shortly after the accident. The bus stop, however, remains dangerously near the corner, according to Wallace.

“There is a perception locally that a lot of Cornell students don’t pay attention to where they’re walking and routinely step out in front of moving vehicles,” Wallace said. “A lot of commuters are surprised that something like this hasn’t happened sooner.”

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts