The young man who was driving the small power boat on Ellicott Creek when passenger Avery L. Gardner was fatally injured pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to two felonies in connection with the girl’s death last summer.
Gregory G. Green, 18, of North Tonawanda, pleaded guilty to two counts of the indictment against him: vehicular manslaughter in the second degree, for operating a boat while intoxicated, and criminally negligent homicide, for driving in a reckless manner on June 11, 2015, when Gardner, 16, was killed.
Green was 17 at the time of the incident. In accepting his plea, Erie County Court Judge Sheila A. DiTullio said she would consider granting Green youthful offender status when he is sentenced Aug. 16. In that event, the sentencing range includes a year in jail, an indeterminate sentence of up to four years in prison, weekends in jail, or probation.
Should Green be sentenced as an adult, the most severe punishment he could receive would be two and a third to seven years in prison.
The plea came in the midst of an evidentiary hearing in anticipation of the case against Green and a co-defendant going to trial in the fall.
Green’s attorney, Daniel Grasso, said outside of court that his client is still upset and remorseful over his girlfriend’s death.
Gardner had been staying at Green’s house for some time before they went together to visit a friend one night last June. After partying overnight at the home of the friend, that friend’s father, Timothy J. Wisniewski, 51, of the City of Tonawanda, invited the pair to take a boat ride in the predawn hours, reportedly to see the sunrise.
Wisniewski allegedly brought along beer and marijuana for the trip.
However, Green later said he was piloting the boat when Gardner stood up briefly just as the craft was going under a low footbridge near Ellicott Creek Park and struck her head. The men immediately pulled her in and sought help. First responders testified that they encountered a frantic Green flagging them down when they arrived. He directed them to the boat, which had been at the creek bank, where Wisniewski was holding Gardner, who was bleeding extensively from the head wound.
Gardner died a short while later. Green and Wisniewski were questioned about the incident but not charged in Gardner’s death until the investigation concluded in February.
Wisniewski remains charged with criminally negligent homicide, two counts of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, endangering the welfare of a child and unlawful possession of marijuana. He had been free on $10,000 bond until last week, when his daughter notified the court that she no longer wished to be responsible for his bail. After hearing a variety of accusations submitted by Wisniewski’s family about his recent behavior, DiTullio reset bail at $20,000, and Wisniewski remains jailed.
The evidentiary hearing for his part of the case resumes June 3, and his trial is set for Oct. 13.
With the approval of Assistant District Attorney Kelley A. Omel, who is prosecuting the case, the judge allowed Green to remain free on $15,000 bail until his sentencing on the condition that he not drink, use illegal drugs or operate any vehicle or watercraft.