Two drivers involved in a road-rage accident on the Thruway that left a passenger permanently brain-damaged were sentenced today to brief jail terms.
Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio ordered financial analyst Laurence A. Trembling, 36, of Seneca Street in West Seneca to spend the next year in jail.
His "continuing course of conduct," she said, resulted in serious injuries to 23-year-old David Rappold of Westgate Boulevard, West Seneca.
Rappold was riding in a rental car driven by his friend, Eric Barton, 19, of Big Tree Road, Hamburg, who was ordered to start serving a 60-day weekend sentence Friday evening.
The accident occurred at about 5 p.m. July 18, 1998, when Trembling pulled his pickup truck in front of Barton's car at high speed as Barton attempted to pass him. The two reportedly had been speeding and cutting off each other for some distance along the Thruway.
Barton's car crashed into an embankment along the median just east of the Eden-Angola exit. Trembling fled, but witnesses reported his license plate number to police.
Before Trembling was taken from court this morning, he turned to Rappold's parents, Mark and Judy Rappold, and said he was "truly sorry" for what happened to their son. But the judge noted he never expressed any remorse when interviewed by court officials before sentencing.
The judge rejected a request from John K. Jordan, Trembling's attorney, that he be spared jail and ordered to perform community service work in a hospital head trauma ward.
On May 18, a jury acquitted Trembling of second-degree assault but found him guilty of misdemeanor reckless endangerment, reckless driving, speeding and making an unsafe lane change.
Jordan said today he will appeal the conviction and sentence.
Barton pleaded guilty Dec. 15 to speeding and making an unsafe lane change for cutting in front of Trembling's pickup truck several times before the accident.
His sentence was in line with a request from Rappold's parents.
DiTullio told both men that the anger they exhibited during their tragic encounter "simply cannot be tolerated because innocent people get hurt or killed."
DiTullio noted that Barton caught up with Trembling at a speed of 80 to 85 mph after he had "inadvertently" cut off Trembling earlier on the highway.
"You had the opportunity to remove yourself form an angry situation" but didn't, she said. "The next time, let it go. It's not worth it."
Barton turned in court to Rappold's parents and told them: "I'm very sorry for what happened. I made a bad move. I'm sorry."
In addressing the judge, Mark Rappold complained that both drivers were getting "a slap on the wrist" while his son received "a life sentence of pain and misery."
Rappold was especially critical of Trembling, whom he called "nothing more than a cold, calculating, gutless coward."
After the sentencing, he said his son has improved somewhat physically and now "seems to know us." But he said he and his wife would be devoting the rest of their lives to the care of their son.
The Rappolds said they will press for stricter laws against reckless driving and increased government funding for programs to aid head trauma victims like their son.