Turners Falls driver in fatal crash arraigned

  • George T. Cortina, 62, of Turners Falls, is facing charges of operating under the influence of drugs causing serious bodily injury, operating under the influence of drugs (second offense), negligent operation of a motor vehicle, possession of a Class A controlled substance (heroin) and a marked lanes violation. SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 10/26/2020 6:55:16 PM

GREENFIELD — The Turners Falls man accused of motor vehicle homicide as the result of a drug-induced Oct. 4 crash has been ordered held on $5,000 cash bail and conditions of release that include surrendering his driver’s license and not leaving the state without permission.

George T. Cortina, 62, was arraigned remotely shortly after noon on Monday, appearing before Greenfield District Court Judge Mark Pasquariello, who granted the state’s bail request. Additionally, Cortina must check in with a probation officer twice a week and refrain from using drugs and alcohol.

The defendant pleaded not guilty to charges of motor vehicle homicide while operating under the influence of drugs, operating under the influence of drugs causing serious bodily injury, operating under the influence of drugs (second offense), negligent operation of a motor vehicle, possession of a Class A controlled substance (heroin) and a marked lanes violation.

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 p.m. on Oct. 4. It was determined that a Ford Explorer driven by Cortina crossed the center line into the westbound lane and struck a Toyota Yaris.

The head-on collision killed 41-year-old Acton resident Jonathan Rohrs and a dog that was in the Yaris. Rohrs grew up in Deerfield and was back visiting family. Cortina and his passenger were transported to hospitals with serious injuries.

In making his case to have bail set at $5,000, Assistant District Attorney Joseph Webber said responding officers called emergency medical personnel to tend to Rohrs, who they suspected was gravely injured or already dead. He said good Samaritans also tried to help Rohrs, but EMTs pronounced him dead at the scene.

Webber 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. Webber said the passenger was initially on a breathing machine and his survival had seemed “less and less likely,” though doctors now believe he will recover.

According to Webber, Cortina allegedly told EMTs and police that he is a heroin addict and he lapsed a couple of months ago following roughly 25 years of sobriety. Webber told Pasquariello that police found drug paraphernalia and a substance believed to be heroin in the Explorer. He said heroin use is known to make people “nod off.”

Webber added that Cortina has defaults on his record from the 1980s and ’90s.

Timothy Flynn, the attorney representing Cortina, argued that bail is set to compel a defendant to appear in court and to eliminate any possible flight risk. But Cortina, he said, is an older man who has lived and worked in Greenfield or Turners Falls his whole life.

“The older you are, the more likely it is that you’re going to appear for court,” Flynn said. “His entire life is in this area.”

Flynn said the state dismissed a 2003 charge of operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license. He also said his client does not have the money to post bail.

Cortina has been in Ludlow in the Hampden County Correctional Center’s Stonybrook Stabilization & Treatment Center under Section 35 — a state law the courts use to involuntarily commit someone likely to cause serious harm due to alcohol or substance use — following a two-week stint in the hospital, according to Webber.

Cortina is due to appear in court again on Nov. 30.

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




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