Wayne County man faces five to 15 years in prison for vehicular manslaughter following August 2015 crash.
LYONS — The Wayne County man charged with causing a fatal motorcycle crash in the town of Sodus last summer allegedly admitted to police that he had last smoked marijuana approximately two hours and 20 minutes before the crash.
The information was uncovered Wednesday in Wayne County Court during a hearing held for 59-year-old Thomas Barto, who faces several charges including vehicular manslaughter and two counts of criminally negligent homicide for the August 2015 crash that killed James Eatherly, 49, and his wife Tammy Eatherly, 41, of Palmyra.
Troopers say at around 1:20 p.m. Aug. 9, 2015, James Eatherly was operating his motorcycle — with his wife as a passenger — south on Route 14 when a 2014 Chevy Silverado driven by Barto failed to keep right and drove into the southbound lane, striking the motorcycle.
During Wednesday’s lengthy hearing before Judge Daniel Barrett, Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bokelman called to the stand multiple state troopers who encountered the remnants of the crash that day, including Trooper Matthew Barrett.
The trooper, who said he was the first on the scene, recalled happening upon the crash, where he witnessed what he described as a demolished motorcycle and its two passengers who lay wounded on the ground nearby.
Barrett said he found no pulse when he checked on who he later found out was James Eatherly, but he heard “a couple gasps of air” coming from Tammy Eatherly. The trooper applied first aid until paramedics arrived on scene to take over.
Despite their efforts, police have stated, both James and Tammy Eatherly died at the scene.
Barrett’s testimony met with tears from a woman who sat among the several family members of the deceased couple in the Wayne County courtroom gallery.
Bokelman later called Trooper Christopher Lander to the stand. Lander carried out an inventory of Barto’s truck following the fatal collision. The trooper claimed he found a bag of marijuana concealed in a cigarette box located in a cooler in the back seat.
Trooper Matthew Kent also took the stand, testifying that he conducted a field sobriety test of Barto — which at times Barto performed unsuccessfully, he testified.
“His balance was off, he missed heel-to-toe, he was offline, he did the wrong number of steps on the way down,” Kent said, regarding one portion of the test titled the "walk and turn."
However, Barto completed other portions of the testing successfuly, Kent testified.
During his cross-examination of the troopers, Barto’s defense attorney Richard Roxin often focused on his client’s lack of stumbling and staggering while walking the day of the wreck — information confirmed by testimony of the witnesses who spent time with Barto at various locations throughout the day. Those locations included, aside from the wreck, various state trooper barracks and the Geneva General Hospital.
Roxin also repeatedly had troopers affirm that Barto never fell down, that the defendant never needed to be propped up and that he could open doors without assistance. Also, multiple statements on the stand suggested that Barto’s eyes were not bloodshot.
The defense attorney also worked to establish that none of the troopers smelled the aroma of marijuana coming from Barto’s vehicle the day of the crash.
The final witness who took the stand was State Police Senior Investigator Thomas Crowley, who interviewed Barto in February, approximately six months after the wreck. According to Crowley’s testimony, Barto admitted to smoking marijuana at about 7:30 a.m. the morning of the crash and then again at around 11 a.m. before the collision, around two hours and 20 minutes before the deadly incident occurred.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Bokelman stated by email that Barto has not expressed any desire to plead guilty at any level for the alleged crime. The prosecutor added that no plea agreement has been placed on the table in the case.
If convicted on the top charge in the indictment, Barto faces five to 15 years in prison.
Barto will reappear in Wayne County Court at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 20. He remains free on bail.