Northampton man gets 5 years in fatal 2021 hit-and-run in Shelburne
|Published: 11-29-2022 8:18 PM
GREENFIELD — A Northampton man was sentenced to five years in prison on Tuesday after pleading guilty to three charges related to the 2021 hit-and-run death of Shelburne Falls resident Rhonda Thompson.
Peter Toomey, 53, appeared in Franklin County Superior Court and was taken into custody after changing his plea on single counts of leaving the scene of personal injury causing death, negligent motor vehicle homicide and misleading a police officer. He was also sentenced to five years of probation for the homicide and misleading police charges — to be served simultaneously once he is released from prison — and he will not be able to obtain a driver’s license for 15 years due to the homicide charge.
Toomey had been free after posting $25,000 bail, with the conditions that he not operate a motor vehicle and not live outside of Massachusetts during court proceedings.
Thompson, 45, was walking with friend Nicole Gancarz on the side of Route 2 in Shelburne at around 6:30 a.m. on June 8, 2021, when she was struck and killed by a pickup Toomey was driving. According to Assistant District Attorney Joseph Webber, who prosecuted the case for the Northwestern district attorney’s office, Thompson was thrown 150 feet.
Gancarz, Webber said, flagged down some good Samaritans, who dialed 911. However, emergency medical personnel arrived to find Thompson without a pulse and declared her dead after unsuccessfully using a defibrillator eight times. The cause of death was later determined to be multiple blunt force injuries to the head, neck, torso and extremities.
Webber said Toomey veered off the road and struck Thompson, never applying the brakes. He then immediately left the scene. Police were advised to be on the lookout on Route 2 for an eastbound truck with heavy front passenger-side damage. Webber said that approximately 20 minutes after the impact, a state trooper in Hatfield noticed a 2001 Toyota matching the description, including what appeared to be blood on the front of it, and stopped the vehicle on King Street in Northampton. The driver was identified as Toomey.
Webber said Toomey told police in interviews that the damage to the vehicle was the result of his girlfriend hitting a deer the previous day. Webber noted it was later learned that Toomey had texted and called his girlfriend to instruct her on what to say if questioned by police. According to Webber, the girlfriend initially complied with Toomey’s instructions until police confronted her about the situation’s severity.
Webber said Toomey had every opportunity to confess to police and repeatedly lied. The prosecutor also said that when Toomey was being handcuffed, he told troopers he would have stopped if Thompson had been alone rather than with a friend.
According to the Northwestern district attorney’s office, members of the State Police collision analysis team concluded that Toomey had an unobstructed view of Thompson for 800 feet before the impact; there were no other vehicles on the road; there was no evidence of solar glare, road defects or mechanical issues; and Thompson had no opportunity to avoid being hit.
Judge Karen Goodwin mentioned she had read letters written by several of Thompson’s loved ones and found them very moving.
Webber acknowledged that Thompson’s family and friends were unhappy with the recommendation reached jointly by himself and defense attorney Jonah Goldsmith because they believe the punishment is inadequate. Webber said he respects everyone’s feelings but he is limited by what he can prove in court. He told Goodwin that a previous charge of negligent motor vehicle homicide while operating under the influence of drugs (which can carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison) would have been difficult to prove.
Shauntel Parker, Thompson’s youngest sister, was the first of Thompson’s loved ones to read a victim impact statement on Tuesday. She compared her sister’s absence to waiting for sunshine that will never come on a rainy day. Parker said Thompson was her role model and “hands down one of the funniest people I have ever known.”
Speaking through tears, Parker recalled getting the phone call about her sister and said medical personnel later told her treating Thompson’s body “was like giving (chest) compressions to a jellyfish.” She rhetorically asked Toomey how he could fatally strike someone with a vehicle and simply keep driving. She also said five years in prison is not enough punishment.
“We … will still have our heads spinning in five years,” Parker said.
Gancarz, the friend walking with Thompson when she was killed, also read a statement, saying Thompson had been her best friend since they met in the second grade 38 years ago. She said she and Thompson started nearly every day with a 5-mile walk and had used that particular route for about a year and a half before she was killed. Through tears and pauses to regain her composure, Gancarz said Toomey’s two children will still get to spend time with their parent — something that Thompson’s daughter, Ella, will never again have an opportunity to do.
Gancarz said she has required intense therapy and was prescribed medications for sleep and anxiety since Thompson was killed.
“No amount of time will ever be enough (for Toomey),” she read.
Thompson’s husband, Mark, delivered a statement in which he explained how he met his soulmate when they were 14 years old. Repeatedly hunched over with grief, he said his wife “was by my side until Peter Toomey took her from me.” Like Parker and Gancarz, Mark Thompson spoke about how his daughter will have to go through life and its milestones without her mother, unlike most of her peers.
Webber read a victim impact statement written by Ella Thompson. In her comments, the teenager mentioned the good times she shared with her mother and expressed anger that she will not get to share achievements with her.
“A bit of me died when she died,” Ella Thompson wrote.
Toomey wiped away tears during parts of the statements and Goodwin followed them by saying, “the grief is palpable.”
Goldsmith, representing Toomey alongside fellow Committee for Public Counsel Services defense attorney Anthony Maddaleni, advocated for his client, who he said was extremely remorseful for what he had done. He said Toomey knows he “shattered the lives of everyone involved” and did not want to put Thompson’s family or his own through a painful trial.
“It’s going to haunt him and it’s going to haunt his family forever,” Goldsmith said.
He also described Toomey as a hard worker who had a difficult upbringing in Pittsfield. He said his client’s last offense was in 2008 and that he was “doing the right thing” by pleading guilty.
Reach Domenic Poli at email@example.com or 413-930-4120.