October 19, 2021

Groton man sentenced in fatal hit-and-run

A Groton man was sentenced Thursday to up to 12 years in state prison after admitting to being the driver in a hit-and-run accident that killed a Cornell University professor in May 2020.

Jeffrey Skinner was sentenced to four to 12 years for vehicular manslaughter, one to three years for driving while intoxicated and two to four years for leaving the scene of a personal injury incident without reporting, all felonies, Tompkins County District Attorney Matthew Van Houten announced Friday.

The sentences imposed by Judge Joseph R. Cassidy in Tompkins County Court will run concurrently.

Skinner admitted to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated on May 3, 2020, in the town of Groton, and to causing the death of Professor Jerrie Gavalchin, 64, also of Groton. Gavalchin was walking her bicycle along the fog line of Lick Street when Skinner struck her with his vehicle.

Samantha Batt and Carl Batt, the daughter and husband of Gavalchin, spoke at the sentencing hearing, giving moving descriptions of their loss and the need for accountability and consequences for Skinner’s decision to drink and drive, then leave the scene after the fatal collision, according to Van Houten.

“It is my hope that the sentence imposed in this case will serve as a deterrent and an example of the devastating consequences of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated,” Van Houten said. “Nothing the criminal justice system can do will ever provide true justice or closure to the victim’s family, but I believe that the court’s sentence today is a fair and appropriate outcome under the parameters of New York State law.”

Gavalchin was hired in 1986 as an assistant professor in the departments of Medicine and Microbiology/Immunology at the State University of New York, Upstate Medical Center, focusing her work on diseases including Lupus and AIDS. She was still on staff at the time of her death.

Gavalchin was also an associate professor in Cornell’s Department of Animal Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, according to the university. Her research focused on autoimmune disease and immunology in animals, aimed at deriving strategies to improve animal health and production.