Impaired driver pleads guilty to vehicular homicide, drug charges

  • George T. Cortina, 63, of Turners Falls, pleaded guilty in Franklin County Superior Court on Tuesday to charges stemming from a 2020 drug-induced crash that killed 41-year-old Jonathan Rohrs and his dog. SCREENSHOT

  • George T. Cortina, 63, pleaded guilty in the 2020 fatal crash. SCREENSHOT

  • JONATHAN ROHRS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2022 5:20:26 PM

GREENFIELD — A Turners Falls man pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to vehicular homicide and other charges stemming from a 2020 drug-induced car crash on Route 2 that killed a 41-year-old Deerfield native and his dog.

In a virtual hearing, George T. Cortina, 63, changed his plea in Franklin County Superior Court to charges of motor vehicle homicide while operating under the influence of drugs, operating under the influence of drugs causing serious bodily injury, a second offense of operating under the influence of drugs, and possession of a Class A substance (heroin).

The crash killed Acton resident Jonathan D. Rohrs, who grew up in Deerfield and was visiting family at the time. Rohrs’ dog, Coco, was also killed in the collision.

Judge Michael Callan said he needed to mull over sentencing.

Defense attorney Timothy Flynn said Cortina, who was ordered held without bail, is extremely remorseful for his actions and would give anything to trade places with Rohrs. But Callan said he felt Cortina was cavalier during the virtual change-of-plea hearing, responding to questions from Callan with answers of “Nope” and “Yup.”

“I want Mr. Cortina to think about this for a few days,” Callan said. “And I need to think about this for a few days.”

Cortina is being housed at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction in Greenfield.

According to the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, the Greenfield Police Department responded to a two-vehicle crash on the Route 2 bypass in Greenfield near the 51.6 mile-marker at roughly 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 4, 2020. It was determined that a Ford Explorer driven by Cortina had crossed the center line into the westbound lane and struck a Toyota Yaris driven by Rohrs.

Assistant District Attorney Joseph Webber, who prosecuted the case for the state, told Callan that responding police officers called emergency medical personnel to tend to Rohrs, who they feared was gravely injured or already dead. He said good Samaritans also tried to help Rohrs, but EMTs pronounced him dead at the scene.

At the arraignment in October 2020, Webber had said witnesses gave similar accounts to the authorities, and said the Ford Explorer did not brake or swerve before it collided with the Yaris at 55 to 60 mph. He said Cortina’s passenger suffered broken ribs and broken arms. Both men were transported to hospitals. Webber said he has met with Cortina’s passenger, who foresees a lifetime of physical and mental pain as a result of the crash.

According to Webber, Cortina allegedly told EMTs and police that he is addicted to heroin and had relapsed a couple of months earlier, following roughly 25 years of sobriety. Webber said police found drug paraphernalia, including needles, and a substance later confirmed to be heroin in the Ford Explorer. On Tuesday, Webber said Cortina told authorities he had recently started a bundle-a-day (10-bag) habit. Webber said Cortina reported he had used roughly two bags at 3 or 4 p.m. the day of the crash.

Rohrs’ brother, Christopher, submitted a victim impact statement and read it to the court on Tuesday. He remembered his brother as a caring soul and animal lover. He said Jonathan slept at their mother’s bedside in hospice every night before she died of cancer in April 2020, six months before the accident. Christopher Rohrs said his brother had driven to Stop & Shop in Greenfield to pick up groceries for their father before heading home to Acton.

“Jon never made it,” Christopher said, adding that authorities had found inside the wreckage some melted ice cream, “a treat for my father.”

“I lost the last piece of the family I grew up with,” he said.

Jonathan Rohrs’ girlfriend, Chris Williams, also read an impact statement, speaking to her boyfriend’s brilliance and exploratory spirit.

“I’ve lost Jon forever, and no sentence today can atone for that,” she read through tears.

She said driving on Route 2 requires great responsibility and she feels additional charges — including animal cruelty — should have been applied. Williams said Coco was 10 years old and in perfect health when she was killed in the crash.

According to an update on the advocacy website jonathanrohrs.com, Rohrs attended Deerfield Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied mechanical engineering. He worked at MathWorks as a software engineer at the time of his death. A private ceremony was held in Torrington, Connecticut.

In Rohrs’ memory, it was asked that people help advocate for Route 2 safety improvements, at jonathanrohrs.com/advocacy. Donations in Rohrs’ memory can be made to MADD at P.O. Box 141, Danvers, MA 01923).

Speaking on behalf of his client, Flynn told Callan that Cortina’s brother and sister-in-law were present on the Zoom call and wished to speak. But Callan denied the request.

“This is for the victim,” Callan said.

Reach Domenic Poli at dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy