28 year old Kristofer Gregorek is headed to prison, after he killed a UB nursing professor in a June 2017 distracted driving crash on the Thruway.
Gregorek was shopping for a videogame and completing a survey on his phone on June 8, 2017 while he was behind the wheel of a box truck carrying windows from Ballston Spa to Buffalo. When the highway narrowed to one lane and traffic quickly slowed, Gregorek couldn’t react in time. He crashed into the car of 45-year-old Rochester resident Ellen Volpe, an assistant professor of nursing at the University at Buffalo. The truck rolled over her car and dragged it, while hitting three others. Volpe was killed.
On Wednesday morning Gregorek stood before Judge Christopher Burns in Erie County Court and read a statement he said was difficult to prepare.
“I was blind to all the other lives around me and put them at risk,” Gregorek recalled. “I was so focused on making my son happy and connecting with him that I wasn’t focused on those around me with sons and daughters of their own. For someone to die so senselessly offended everything I believe in.”
District Attorney John Flynn called the case the saddest he’s seen in his year-and-a-half on the job, both for the loss of life, and for Gregorek’s young family. He said most lethal distracted driving cases are charged as criminally negligent homicide. This case was different.
“We took it up a notch,” said Flynn. “We charged him with manslaughter, and that’s a very aggressive charge. I want to be aggressive on these cases because I believe that criminally negligent homicide was not the appropriate charge here.”
Gregorek pleaded guilty to the charge in February. As he finished his statement Wednesday morning, he said he was resolved to make an example of his story.
“Because I cannot change the past, I am determined to change the future,” said Gregorek. “Regardless of the court’s decision today, I will seek out ways to share with the world the result of my mistake and the pain that Ellen’s death has caused.”
Gregorek’s lawyer asked Judge Burns to consider probation, saying that sharing Gregorek’s message in places like high schools now would be more powerful than time in state prison.
Volpe’s husband, John McIntyre spoke of his wife as “the rock” of their family, recalling that she was dedicated to her work, to sports, and to the dream of being a mother to their two young sons.
“I believe it important for Mr. Gregorek to have an opportunity to think about that at length, and be incarcerated,” said McIntyre. “But mostly I want my wife’s memory alive and I miss her and love her dearly.”
Burns said he had to consider Gregorek’s background, reckless actions, and the taking of an innocent life. He sentenced Gregorek to between one-and-a-half and four-and-a-half years in prison.
Flynn called the sentence appropriate, and said the one point of good news he found in the case was that in the many letters of impact sent to the court on behalf of Volpe, many said she wouldn’t want vengeance.