Kristofer M. Gregorek was driving a 20,000-pound truck 70 mph in a Thruway construction zone as he bought a video game and filled out a customer satisfaction survey in June 2017.
That's when he struck and killed a University at Buffalo nursing professor.
On Wednesday, Gregorek stood motionless in State Supreme Court as a judge handed down a sentence of one and a half to four and a half years in prison for the death of Ellen M. Volpe.
“You are the latest symbol of distracted driving,” Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns told Gregorek. He called Gregorek’s actions inexcusable and reckless.
Gregorek, 28, of Ballston Spa, apologized and said he was “pierced to the core” by the fatal accident as Volpe’s husband, John McIntyre, and a crowded Erie County courtroom looked on.
“I can’t imagine what her children are going through,” Gregorek said. “I was blind to all the other lives around me.”
The truck driver pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter in February.
Gregorek said he wasn’t paying attention on the morning of June 8, 2017, when the westbound truck he was operating rear-ended Volpe’s vehicle between the Thruway’s Pembroke and Depew exits.
Burns could have sentenced Gregorek to a maximum of five to 15 years in prison, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn told reporters. But the truck driver had no prior criminal record and was working to support his family. Volpe’s loved ones, in victim impact statements, also said she wouldn’t want “vengeance,” Flynn said.
“This is one of the saddest cases I’ve dealt with,” Flynn said in his office Wednesday. “It’s sad for the loss of life, for the 44-year-old woman, but it’s also sad for this 28-year-old defendant.”
Volpe lived in Rochester with her husband and sons, who were 2- and 3-years-old at the time of her death. She commuted to Buffalo for her job as an assistant professor and researcher in UB’s School of Nursing.
McIntyre on Wednesday told Burns his wife had always dreamed of being a mother, and Volpe’s children miss her. She was the family’s rock, McIntyre said.
“I am happy that I get to see her face, in my two young sons, John and Paul, each day,” McIntyre added in a brief statement to reporters.
Flynn said McIntyre never told assistant direct attorneys he wanted Gregorek to go to prison for the rest of his life.
“If the husband ... would have said to me, ‘Hey, Mr. Flynn, I really feel strongly that this guy should get the max, the five to 15,’ then I probably would have (gone) along with the victim’s wishes,” Flynn said. “But he didn't.”
And in the courtroom, McIntyre spoke quietly and slowly as he told Burns of his loss.
“I think of my wife,” he said, “every day, all day.”
The district attorney said he hopes Gregorek is sincere, and after his prison term cautions others about the grave dangers of distracted driving.