The guilty pleas from two Rochester-area men over the deaths last summer of two boys, 6 and 9 years old, who fell into the water and over the 70-foot Lower Falls at Letchworth State Park, should send a message that park warning signs should be obeyed, said Wyoming County District Attorney Donald O’Geen.
Tyler Jennings, 34, of Farmington, and Chad Staley, 32, of Rochester, each pleaded guilty in Wyoming County Court this week to one count of criminally negligent homicide. Jennings admitted that his negligence caused the death of his nephew, 6-year-old Preston Giangregorio, and Staley, a family friend, pleaded guilty in the death of Preston’s brother, Dylan Giangregorio, 9.
Both boys were from Brockport.
“Hopefully, Dylan and Preston’s deaths will not be in vain and park visitors will learn from this preventable tragedy by following the rules of the park going forward,” O'Geen said in a statement after the pleas.
The tragedy happened during a weekend family gathering on June 11. The men took the boys and also three girls -- ages 5, 6 and 12 -- for a hike along the Genesee River. They ignored warning signs and allowed the children to wade into the fast-moving water flowing over slick, smooth rocks above the Lower Falls to get a closer look at the falls.
The children lost their footing in the swift current and the men could not hold onto them. Jennings and the five children plunged over the brink. Staley caught hold near the top and was lifted out two hours later by a rope rescue team.
Jennings and the girls were rescued from below the falls, but the brothers were nowhere to be seen.
Despite a major rescue effort by 10 government agencies, Preston’s body wasn’t found until the next day. Dylan’s body was recovered two days later by an underwater team from the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office.
The others in the group suffered minor or severe injuries. All were hospitalized.
O’Geen called it a miracle the other children survived the plunge over the 70-foot cliff. He labeled the boys’ deaths “100 percent preventable.”
The case has been emotional for all involved, including the family, the defendants and the rescue personnel.
Jennings and Staley originally were charged with second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and 10 counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Their pleas cover all those charges.
The court and prosecutors made no sentencing commitments in exchange for the pleas. The maximum sentence possible is an indeterminate term of 1 1/3 to 4 years. Judge Michael M. Mohun set sentencing for May 17.
Story topics: Letchworth State Park