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Teen driver of boat in Ellicott Creek fatal gets 6 months in jail

The teenager who was piloting the small power boat on Ellicott Creek when passenger Avery L. Gardner struck her head on a bridge and died was sentenced Tuesday to six months in jail.

Gregory G. Green, 19, of North Tonawanda, also will be on probation for five years after pleading guilty to vehicular manslaughter in the second degree, for operating the boat while intoxicated, and criminally negligent homicide, for driving in a reckless manner on June 11, 2015.

[Related: Teen on fatal Ellicott Creek boat ride tells a different tale]

Because Green was 17 at the time of the incident, Judge Sheila A. DiTullio also granted him youthful offender status.

But before Green was sentenced, the court heard from the victim's mother.

Kristy Gardner told of the emptiness her family lives with every day, and of how she could not bear to put her daughter alone in the ground, having her cremated instead.

She also told of the pain that Green caused her by not giving Avery's personal information to authorities immediately after the crash.

"He withheld her information for five and a half hours," Gardner said, which meant she was unable to see her daughter in the hospital.

Gregory Green pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter in the second degree and criminally negligent homicide for his role in the June 11, 2015, death of his girlfriend, Avery Gardner, 16.

By the time she knew what had happened, she had to identify her daughter through a photo.

Green eventually took responsibility for his actions in May, when he pleaded guilty to the highest charges against him. More about his conduct after the crash came out later, during the November trial of his co-defendant Timothy J. Wisniewski, 51, who was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide.

Green and Gardner were friends with Wisniewski's son, which is why they were at the Wisniewski home on the creek that night. Wisniewski owned the boat they took out and allowed the intoxicated teenager to drive it that morning.

He remains jailed with bail set at $20,000 and is scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 19.

[Prosecutors: Two were drunk at time of Ellicott Creek boat fatality]

In pronouncing the sentence, the judge noted that Green admitted his guilt and that he cooperated by testifying in Wisniewski's trial. While on the witness stand in that case, Green admitted that he had been drinking heavily at the Wisniewski house before he, the older man and Gardner, 16, decided to take the boat out on the creek. Green also conceded that he lied repeatedly to police and investigators about the fact that he was driving the boat.

Experts who re-created the crash estimated that the boat was going no less than 21 mph and possibly more than 30 mph when Green went under a pedestrian bridge while his girlfriend stood in the back of the boat. Gardner struck her head on the steel bridge and sustained massive trauma.

[Related: Jury finds Wisniewski guilty in Ellicott Creek boat death of teen]

At Wisniewski's trial, Green testified that because of his daily marijuana use and heavy drinking, he remembered little about the crash, or about talking to police or the grand jury.

He also testified that he has been sober and drug-free since his arrest in February 2016. Green's attorney, Daniel Grasso, wanted the court to know that his client had matured significantly since that tragic morning.

"When he first came to my office he was a wreck," Grasso said. "Virtually unsupervised, consuming alcohol, smoking pot -- completely untethered."

Since then, he said, Green has finished school, started working as a landscaper and is receiving counseling for PTSD and other issues.

"He's a different young man," Grasso said.

Green apologized for the actions that claimed his girlfriend's life, and, although he had remained stoic up until then, he began crying as DiTullio reviewed what had led him to her courtroom: That he never had a father in his life; that his mother, though she professed her love for her son, also had been abusive physically and emotionally; that he has had to help care for his mother and grandparents; and that he continues to have nightmares and suffer depression as a result of Avery's death.

"You live with a heavy heart, I know that," the judge said.

However, she also spoke critically of Wisniewski's role in the events leading to Avery's death.

"Your co-defendant allowed you to drink and get high at his house and then he allowed you to drive his boat," DiTullio said. "Adults should know better and be held to a higher standard."

In pronouncing her sentence for Green, DiTullio ordered that the terms run concurrently, that Green's driver's license be revoked,  and that, once he is released from jail, he speak to high school students about the dangers of drinking and driving any vehicle on land or water.

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