Belchertown man gets five years in bus stop death

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • William Wanczyk Sr. is shown in an undated photo. Wanczyk, 55, was struck and killed while waiting for a bus in Amherst in November 2016. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/25/2020 9:44:32 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A Belchertown man was sentenced to five years in jail on a series of charges related to his role in driving a construction pickup truck on the evening of Nov. 6, 2016, that struck and killed a 55-year-old Northampton man waiting at a downtown Amherst bus stop.

On Tuesday in Hampshire Superior Court, Peter Sheremeta, 23, agreed to a plea deal with the Northwestern district attorney’s office on four charges returned by a grand jury, including operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, negligent operation of a motor vehicle to endanger, using a motor vehicle without authority and leaving the scene of a property damage crash, as well as a later charge brought by the district attorney’s office for possession of heroin.

Judge Richard Carey sentenced Sheremeta to five years in the Hampshire Jail and House of Correction, though Sheremeta will receive credit for more than 800 days already served. After his release, he will be on probation for 2½ years, with a requirement to participate in a residential treatment program.

Prosecutors decided not to pursue manslaughter and other charges against Sheremeta related to the death of William Wanczyk Sr., who died after being hit by a stolen 2008 Ford F550 truck at the bus stop at the corner of North Pleasant Street and Kellogg Avenue. Those included manslaughter, manslaughter while operating under the influence of alcohol, motor vehicle homicide and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne said the state of evidence was diminished since his office began the grand jury process. There was recognition that it would be hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Sheremeta was driving the truck at the time of Wanczyk’s death, he said.

Gagne acknowledged that Wanczyk’s family, despite being involved in lengthy negotiations for the plea deal, may not be entirely pleased with the result.

“This outcome is not nearly satisfying. It is not a complete sense of justice,” Gagne said in court.

He said that the plea deal, though, is as close as his office can come to giving some measure of justice and closure to the family.

He read a victim impact statement from Wancyzk’s parents, Richard and Judith Wancyzk, who wrote, “Our son Bill lost his life and it seems no one cares.”

Elysse Link, who was Wanczyk’s partner for 14 years, spoke in court and said that, as a legally blind person, she appreciated his caring, describing him as her “rock.” Link added that she holds Sheremeta responsible for stealing someone who was so precious to her.

“I will always have a hole in my heart,” Link said.

Gagne acknowledged that while the district attorney’s office couldn’t prove Sheremeta was driving at the time Wanczyk was killed, he asked Carey to consider Sheremeta’s contributions to the tragic outcome.

The facts that are known are that Sheremeta took the vehicle from a nearby construction site.

“He was so intoxicated that at a later interview with Amherst Police he claimed he could not remember portions of the evening and had even blacked out at one point,” Gagne said.

Sheremeta admitted that he was behind the wheel that night when it struck a height bar at the entrance to the lower level of the Boltwood parking garage, which left that bar dangling.

At that point, it’s possible that another man with Sheremeta that night, Paul Leblanc, may have taken over driving because of his familiarity with the truck as a former employee of the truck’s owner, Sunwood Builders, according to Sheremeta’s defense attorney, Bonnie Allen.

The truck left the garage via Kellogg Avenue and made a sharp right turn onto North Pleasant Street in front of the post office, where Wanczyk was hit. The truck continued on and was abandoned behind a Triangle Street business.

Gagne said he didn’t believe his office could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Sheremeta was behind the wheel, and not Leblanc.

The problem in the evidence arose when photographs of Leblanc’s facial injuries taken by an Amherst police officer were lost as they were being transferred from the officer’s cellphone camera to an official department device, Gagne said.

Allen said Judge John Agostini, at an earlier proceeding, ruled that those photos had been intentionally destroyed by police.

Whether the person who was driving at the time of Wanczyk’s death will ever be known is uncertain.

Leblanc has not been charged criminally in the case, but both Sheremeta and Leblanc, as well as Shaul Perry and his business, Sunwood Builders Inc., are subject to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Wanczyk’s family.

The question of who was driving the truck was referenced in the victim impact statement from Wanczyk’s parents. “The two people who took the truck that night know who hit Bill that night,” they wrote.

Allen said Sheremeta hopes to make something of himself when he gets out of jail.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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