CAMBRIA – The former Niagara County sheriff’s deputy whose patrol car T-boned a sport utility vehicle last year, killing its driver, pleaded guilty to three traffic violations Tuesday.
James H. Bissell III, 31, who had been a deputy for only 39 days when the crash occurred, was fined a total of $501 by Cambria Town Justice Amel S. Jowdy Jr. after Bissell admitted to imprudent speed, failure to yield the right of way and running a stop sign.
Jowdy Jr. imposed a $75 fine and a $92 state surcharge for each count.
Niagara County taxpayers could be liable for much more than that when a civil suit by the victim’s widow is either settled or tried.
“As long as he pleads to a violation of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, that cements the county’s liability. It becomes an admission of liability,” said Terrence M. Connors, attorney for Mary A. Annalora of Newfane, the victim’s widow.
Her husband, Glenn T. Annalora, 61, died from injuries suffered when Bissell’s patrol car smashed into the driver’s side of the Jeep at Ridge and North Ridge roads in Cambria shortly after 7 p.m. Oct. 22.
Mary Annalora, 58, who was a passenger in the Jeep, suffered multiple injuries, including fractured ribs and vertebrae, according to her lawsuit against the county.
County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said when the suit was filed in May, “I don’t think you’re going to come out of that case without paying any damages.”
But Assistant District Attorney Thomas H. Brandt said the accident investigation led to a decision to dismiss the most serious count against Bissell, a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving. The report included a check of the event data recorder – the “black box” – in the patrol car.
Bissell was not using a cellphone, and testing showed he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“Based on the accident report, it appears the defendant was driving approximately 74 mph with his emergency lights on five seconds before impact. At that point, he could not see the Annalora car,” Brandt said.
Bissell was southbound on North Ridge Road, which approaches Ridge Road at an acute angle, although a construction project a few years ago made the actual intersection close to 90 degrees. But as a driver approaches from the south, the view of eastbound traffic is obstructed by trees, shrubs, barns and a metal storage building. The accident occurred after dark.
The report showed Bissell had his brakes on in the final few seconds, but he was still moving 53 mph when the crash occurred.
“This is a case that wasn’t involving a police call or a response to an emergency,” said Lawlor F. Quinlan III, an attorney with Connors’ firm.
Bissell, whose driver’s license was suspended for a year by the Department of Motor Vehicles following a fatality hearing this summer, suffered a head injury and said in court he couldn’t remember the crash.
Mary Annalora did not come to court, but Brandt said her family was “in full agreement” with the plea deal, worked out with input from the Annalora family through their attorneys.
Quinlan said the plea deal “is an appropriate thing to do here. Mr. Bissell doesn’t have any recollection of what happened. He obviously ran a stop sign at high speed and caused a horrible accident.”
Defense attorney Thomas H. Burton, asked after court why Bissell was going so fast, answered, “He got his bell rung pretty hard in the accident. That may be a mystery for the ages.”