Robert J. DeFelice, 38, of Ithaca, pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide after he hit and killed a 14-year-old girl on July 21, 2021. DeFelice pleaded guilty to the most serious count of the indictment, aggravated vehicular homicide is a class B felony, and waived his right to appeal. The maximum possible sentence is a term of 8.33-25 years in state prison.
DeFelice admitted to driving recklessly while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of cocaine and with a blood alcohol content greater than .18%. DeFelice crossed the fog line onto the shoulder of Route 96 near Indian Creek Farm into the path of four girls walking on the shoulder. He hit two of the girls, killing Sophia Nickerson.
Nickerson was a student at the Lehman Alternative Community School and was a beloved daughter, grand-daughter, niece, sister and friend to many.
District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said, “I would like to recognize the members of the community who stepped forward in the immediate wake of this tragedy to provide care to the victims and to ensure that the perpetrator was caught. Additionally, the professional response of both the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office and the Ithaca Police Department ensured that the defendant was brought to justice. It is meaningful that the defendant pleaded guilty to the most serious charge. While nothing can make this tragedy less painful for the victim’s family, the defendant’s acceptance of responsibility represents a small measure of justice.”
Assistant District Attorney Daniel Johnson prosecuted the case and Jason Leifer represented the defendant.
Sentencing has been scheduled for March 3 at 2 p.m. before County Court Judge Joseph R. Cassidy.