A former Erie County sheriff’s dispatcher was sentenced Tuesday to one to three years in prison for plowing into two pedestrians as he was driving his pickup truck at a high rate of speed last April in Hamburg after drinking at the Dyngus Day Festival in Buffalo.
The April 1 crash left both victims with traumatic brain injuries, a factor that State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski cited in sentencing Thomas A. Gilray Jr.
Gilray, 29, of College Street, Hamburg, pleaded guilty in July to first-degree vehicular assault for striking Bill Sheehan, 61, and Michael Serrano, 32, with his Dodge Ram truck about 11 p.m. on Route 5 near Milestrip Road.
A Hamburg police officer was investigating a fender-bender involving Sheehan and Serrano on Route 5 when Gilray approached at more than 80 mph, according to prosecutors.
Gilray’s blood alcohol content was 0.12 percent, exceeding the 0.08 percent legal limit. He admitted he had been drinking at Dyngus Day festivities even though he was supposed to be the designated driver, according to police.
The police officer jumped over the hood of his patrol car to avoid being hit. Gilray’s pickup slammed into Sheehan’s parked vehicle, which then crashed into the two men, who were walking nearby.
Sheehan and Serrano were taken to Erie County Medical Center. Sheehan had multiple injuries, including a broken neck, and was in a coma for two months.
The judge said he had read a victim-impact statement from the Sheehan family before sentencing.
“It was one of the most difficult statements that I have had to read,” Michalski said. “There were times when I had to put it down. But I began to understand the tragic nature of the injuries” that both men suffered, “but particularly Mr. Sheehan.
“This is a group of people who have been catastrophically changed for the rest of their lives,” the judge said, referring to the family.
Despite that fact, he said the Sheehans are not vengeful toward Gilray. “They didn’t say send him to prison for the rest of his life, like others sometimes do in these cases,” Michalski said.
The judge said he hoped that with the support of such a loving family, Sheehan, a retired teacher who taught biology at Lake Shore High School for 35 years, will be able to “get back to some semblance of his life before this incident.”
In imposing a prison sentence, the judge cited Gilray’s actions.
“You were the impetus for the events leading to these catastrophic injuries,” he told the defendant, who could have received up to seven years in prison.
Before he was sentenced, Gilray said he was deeply sorry for the victims’ families and his own family.
He said that before the crash, he had spent his life helping people. He became a volunteer firefighter when he was 16, and he joined the Air Force at 18 and served for 11 years before joining the Reserve.
Gilray also served as a commissioner for a youth football league.
“I had dreams of becoming a police officer, but I let everybody down,” he said.
He added that he will continue to work on becoming a better person.
Gilray’s attorney, Michael S. Deal, told the judge that his client was not the kind of man who should be in court facing a prison term, noting his lack of a criminal record and his life of service to others.
“But he was the decision-maker in an almost perfect storm of events that resulted in these catastrophic injuries,” Deal said.
“He is a good person who made a tragic decision,” the attorney added.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher M. McCarthy prosecuted the case.