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Niagara deputy faces only misdemeanors in fatal crash

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County sheriff’s deputy who resigned after a fatal collision between his speeding patrol car and a civilian’s vehicle was charged Friday with one misdemeanor and three traffic violations.

The Sheriff’s Office announced Friday night that there will be no felony charges against James H. Bissell III. He is being charged with reckless driving, a misdemeanor, along with imprudent speed, failure to yield the right of way and passing a stop sign. The maximum penalty if he is convicted as charged is one year in the County Jail.

Bissell is scheduled to make his first court appearance at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 in Cambria Town Court, according to his attorney, Thomas H. Burton.

Bissell’s patrol car sped through the intersection of Ridge and Plank roads in Cambria on Oct. 22, T-boning a Jeep driven by Glenn T. Annalora, 61, of Ridge Road, Newfane. Annalora was killed and his wife, Mary A. Annalora, 58, was injured. Bissell, who had joined the Sheriff’s Office only a month before the wreck after working as a part-time officer for other Niagara County police agencies, suffered a head injury and was treated in Erie County Medical Center.

Residents who live near the crash scene said they did not hear a police siren before the collision.

Attorneys for Bissell and for the Annalora family agreed that the charges were appropriate because Bissell was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“Our investigation has revealed that his driving that evening was reckless, and it looks like the District Attorney’s Office agrees with us,” said Terrence M. Connors, the attorney for the Annalora family.

Connors said that this week, he filed a notice of claim against Niagara County. That’s a mandatory legal preliminary to a lawsuit.

Addressing the charges against Bissell, Connors said, “Unless you have drugs and alcohol, reckless is the most you can charge him with.”

Burton, a Buffalo attorney who frequently represents police officers, agreed. “The standard, in the absence of drugs or alcohol, for a vehicular felony is very high,” said Burton, who was hired by the Niagara County Sheriff’s Police Benevolent Association to represent Bissell.

Calling the fatal incident “an abject tragedy all the way around,” Burton said before he can comment further on the details, he will have to look at all the investigative reports compiled by the Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.

Connors said the charges against Bissell “are enormously helpful to the civil litigation, because he was obviously at fault.”

Connors said Mary Annalora has returned home after a period of rehabilitation. “She still has some functional limitations. She is recovering, but struggling with her loss,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Office’s news release said the decision on charges was made “as a result of the lengthy investigation, and after conferring with the District Attorney’s Office ... The Niagara County District Attorney’s Office will not consider felony charges, following their complete and thorough review of all the facts and the law.”

The announcement also said, “Due to pending litigation, no further information will be released at this time.”

In the meantime, Bissell, who resigned as a deputy Dec. 19, “is looking for employment to support his children,” Burton said.

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