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Sheriff’s dispatcher pleads guilty to vehicular assault

An Erie County sheriff’s dispatcher has pleaded guilty to first-degree vehicular assault for plowing into two pedestrians while driving his pickup truck at a high speed in April.

Thomas A. Gilray Jr., 29, had been drinking at the Dyngus Day Festival in Buffalo on April 1 before striking Bill Sheehan, 61, and Michael Serrano, 32, with his Dodge Ram pickup truck on Route 5 near Milestrip Road in Hamburg.

A Hamburg police officer was investigating a fender-bender involving Sheehan and Serrano on Route 5 when Gilray approached, driving more than 80 miles per hour, according to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.

The police officer jumped over the hood of his illuminated 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 suffered traumatic brain injuries and were taken to Erie County Medical Center. Sheehan had multiple injuries, including a broken neck, and was in a coma for two months.

District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said too many drunken drivers remain on area roads.

“Every two or three weeks, there’s this type of horrendous DWI crash,” Sedita said. “How drunk do you have to be? There’s a police car with its lights flashing. You’ve got to be just blind drunk.”

Gilray told police he did not see the patrol car or the disabled vehicle. He admitted drinking at Dyngus Day festivities even though he was supposed to be a designated driver, according to a police report.

The District Attorney’s Office sought a court-ordered blood sample when Gilray refused a breath test at the crash scene. His blood-alcohol content was 0.12 percent, exceeding the legal limit.

Gilray faces a prison sentence of up to seven years when sentenced Nov. 26 by State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski.

The Sheriff’s Office suspended Gilray without pay after his arrest and has begun efforts to fire him, said Mary Murray, a spokeswoman for the office. Gilray had been a dispatcher since 2010.