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September 6, 2012 - 12:35pm

Six-month jail term and probation given to teenage golf cart driver involved in fatal accident

posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, byron.

A teenager who drove a black golf cart without lights on a darkened public highway before it was rear-ended by a car, killing her boyfriend, will serve six months in jail and be placed on probation for five years.

Judge Robert C. Noonan called the case a tragedy -- the actions of Cortney L. Greene, 19, of Bryon, "stupid," -- but also noted the support Greene has received from friends, family, teachers, and the parents of her victim, Zachary J. Rusin, 18, of Holley, figured into his sentencing decision.

Greene was also granted youthful offender status by Noonan, meaning if she stays out of trouble over the next five years, she won't have a felony conviction on her record.

Rusin's mother, Tracy, told Noonan she wanted to see Greene have a chance to teach other teenagers about the dangers of drinking and driving.

"He loved and cherished Cortney," Tracy Rusin said. "He always got a big smile on his face when he heard her name.

"I lost my son," she added, "and I love Cortney and I respect her. She knows what happened was wrong and I would like to help her educate people. I'm going to stand beside her every step of the way. It's hard for a parent to go through this, and I know she's going through the same thing."

While Rusin spoke, a couple of times, Cortney, standing beside her attorney Thomas Burns, wiped tears from her cheeks with the sleeves of her gray sweater.

Greene's sentence could have been just probation, or maybe intermittent jail time, instead of a straight six months, Noonan indicated, but he said it wasn't clear Greene has really learned her lesson. Twice, Noonan said, Greene violated the terms of her release under supervision contract with Genesee Justice since pleading guilty June 11 to negligent homicide and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

District Attorney Kevin Finnell said he's never seen such an outpouring of support for a defendant. He said people he knows and respects would stop him on the street and express support of Greene.

"It would be very easy for me to request incarceration based on the nature of the offense," Finnell said. "Out of respect for Mrs. Rusin and James Rusin, the father of Zach Rusin, I won't do that. Neither of them are asking for state prison."

Finnell made no sentencing recommendation, though he questioned whether Greene has reached the point in her life where she's making correct decisions.

Noonan received 24 letters of support for Greene from people in the community and more than two dozens supporters sat in the courtroom today.

Many sobbed after Noonan informed Greene she was going to jail for six months, starting today.

When Noonan told Greene the sentence was imposed because of her "misconduct" while awaiting sentencing, and that the sentence might give her time "to think long and hard about her conduct," Greene said softly, "I understand."

Burns requested Greene be granted probation and youthful offender status -- she was 18 at the time of the accident, making her eligible for YO -- because, he said, Greene has dreamed of, and has been working toward, becoming an elementary school teacher. A felony conviction would keep her from obtaining teaching credentials.

Greene loves working with children and looks forward to "teaching her own children and the children of other mothers some day."

He described a client who has tried not to show how upset she is by the events of Nov. 26, but said Greene is an emotional wreck who still hasn't truly come to terms with the enormity of the tragedy.

"It isn't just the use of substance that night," Burns said. "Even without the use of those substances, what she did when she drove that vehicle on that dark road created criminal recklessness."

Later, he added, "There was no malice in her, but there was certainly negligence in her action, and criminal negligance."

When Noonan asked Greene if she had anything to say, she responded with a terse, "Nothing, sir."

Noonan said he has thought long and hard about this case and read every letter and every document associated with it.

He said the Probation Department report recommended treating her as an adult and sending her to state prison.

"If we were to do that on either of these counts, I feel quite confident it would not be disturbed by any other court," Noonan said.

However, Noonan said, he did not intend to hinder Greene's ambition to become a teacher.

"I would agree that the levels of drugs and alcohol in your system were not as great as some of the cases I see every day," Noonan said. "Your levels were very nominal. You were not somebody out there blasted beyond the ability to know what's going on around you.

"But," Noonan added, "Your decision to go out in a black golf cart on a darkened public highway and put yourself and your boyfriend in harm's way had to have something to do with the drugs and alcohol in your system to make you make such a stupid decision."

He said by all indications, Greene's behavior that night was out of character for her.

"Lord knows your decision on that night was stupid and resulted in a terrible, terrible tragedy," Noonan said. "It is just heartbreaking to everybody in this courtroom."

Bob Harker
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What conditions of her pre-sentencing release did she violate?

Howard B. Owens
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That was not discussed in open court -- no specifics from the prosecution, the defense nor Noonan, who all made reference to it.

Eric Goodman
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you got to be kidding me? she kills her friend and gets a slap on her wrist and given yo? How would the 24 people think if it was their kid? would they still ask for this kind of justice because she wants to be a teacher. She killed some one while be under the influence of drugs and booze that's a felony not a speeding ticket, she should do the real time for this kind of crime, and for the judge shame on you for not doing your job to up holding the law? will you now start giving the same sentence out for other people, just sickening.

Kyle Couchman
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Eric if you read the article you would see that 2 of the 24 people were the parents of the victim were part of her supporters, so since that was their kid they do carry alot of weight with the Judge. Thats not something you often see. I find your outrage a little out of place when the parents of the boy killed were instrumental in influencimg the Judge's sentencing. Even the prosecutor had offered nothing in the way of advisement for a harsher sentence.

jeanne chamberlin
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I just dont get it she is being convicted as if she was driving the car that hit them and killed the passenger, you hit someone from behind , rear end another car its the driver of the car that hit you is at fault, if a deer runs out in front of you and you kill it its your fault,the driver of that car got charged with nothing that road is lit up with street lights right there ! She could not of been paying attention or going at a high rate of speed or something ! Courney may have been wrong for being out in the golf cart but they were driving on the side of the road not in the driving lane ! That person driving the car is the one who is at fault ! Those two were just in the wrong place at the wrong time . When i drive at night i am constantly looking from side to side expecting a deer to come running into the road, and im prepared to slow down or stop if one does, that golf cart did not run into the car that car ran into them, common sense she is at fault the driver of the car period ! It is just all wrong ! Boy how things can be turned around . So i can go out and be driving my car and someone all dressed in black is walking in the road and i can hit them kill them and not be charged with anything cause they were walking in the road all dressed in dark clothes ?

jeanne chamberlin
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OK ! Lets say two people walking in the road in black clothes , I hit both of them and only one dies , the one who does not die is tested for drugs and alcohol and it is dicovered that the had one drink and traces of pot in there system so then that person should be sent off to prison and charged for the other ones death cause they were walking in the road in dark clothes and it was the one who didnt die idea to walk in the road so its her fault, and im not at fault at all cause they shouldnt of been in the road to begin with ! So she is charged and has to go to prison and charged with her friends death ,beacuse she had a drink that night and smoked pot sometime that month and it was her idea to walk in the road. I get charged with nothing . WoW HUh !

Raymond Richardson
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The Judge did bring justice to this defendant. All those who are trashing the judge, and the system, should stop and put yourselves in Greene's shoes.

What if it was YOU as the defendant?

While I abhor operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, I am not bothered by this sentence.

A young person made a mistake, and will pay for it. Why ruin her life with anything harsher than what she's received?

Kyle Couchman
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First off Jeanne, just rear ending anything isnt an automatic at fault accident. New York State law presumes that a driver who strikes to another driver from the rear bears 100 percent liability for an accident. Therefore, the onus falls on the driver who strikes from the rear to prove that he or she is not liable, which is hard to do. For example, if the driver in front cuts off the driver from behind, then the courts may shift liability. In this case the victim and the defendant were on an unlit vehicle not legal for the road late at night. If I remember the report well enough they in a dip and the other car came from over the rise and had no time to stop. Since the driver was never charged before or after the investigation it was obvious she had no fault in the accident.

As for the people in black walking and you hitting them? Well again it depends on the circumstances, thats why police do investigations, they will look to see if the victim is despondant or drunk but the will check you and your car, cell phone etc. If anyone was negligent then they will bear the brunt of the blame. Its not a black and white thing there are hsades of grey to every case like this. The outrage in this particular case here in Genesee count is very displaced. If you ask me it sounds like this young lady isnt coping well with what happened to begin with, theres no punishment we can give her thats gonna match what was alluded to, that she is doing to herself. Even the victims parents can see that through the grief of their loss.

Brett Orr
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There is not a big enough thumb pointing down for me to hit for all of Jeanne's comments. Because I am directly involved in this accident I will keep my mouth shut. But before you blast your opinions all over a public forum, perhaps you should do a little research first. Try reading the accident report, news reports or witness accounts before you start flapping your gums about who should be punished.

Doug Yeomans
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jeanne, where did you learn to think like that? You're so far off base that a quadriplegic could tag you out.

John Woodworth JR
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Jeanne, you must of read a diferent article. MS Greene was driving the black golf cart in the center of the road. The so called well lighted area is not as lite up as you suggested. Street lights on RTE 237 always flicker on and off and dim. I drive 237 every night and it is not always easy to see things. Curves, hills, low dropping areas. Add those factors in with a black golf cart and you are asking for trouble.

As for hitting someone on the side of the road in all black. That is a no brainer! If, a car goes across the white fog line and hits that person then of course they will be found at fault. If, the numbnut in black clothing decides to walk in the road then, they are at fault. MS Greene got off easy and that was because, Zack's Mom requested that Judge Noonan show mercy. That is in his ability to do so. I do not agree with MS Greene just getting six months. I think she deserves longer. However, I agree why Judge Noonan did what he did. If, the parents of victim feel that strongly about giving MS Greene mercy that is their right and shows a lot strength and understanding on their behalf.

I have lost several close family members and numerous friends to drunks. I think we have the problem with DWI since, we tend not to give severe punishments out. Today's youth shows a lack of respect and responsibilities. Look at today's reality television and shows that do not show the consequences of poor decisions. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions they play the "BLAME GAME!"

John Woodworth JR
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BTW Jeanne, how do you think the young girl feels about what happen? MS Greene's actions put her into a very emotional position. From the sounds of things MS Greene has problems with following rules and laws. Eoungh that make Judge Noonan feel she does not completely understand her mistakes. Also, if people are foolish enough to travel down the road in pure black without any reflective or light source then they are idiots who are tempting fate.

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