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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, December 15, 2005

Landauer sentenced for manslaughter

By Matt Cook

ALBANY — The drunk driver being sentenced and the family of the slain man both cried in an Albany County courtroom Tuesday morning.

A Knox man is going to prison for killing a Binghamton professor.

Justin Landauer, 27, of 417 Beebe Road, Knox, was sentenced to two-and-a-third to seven years in state prison for vehicular manslaughter, the maximum allowed by Landauer’s guilty-plea bargain. For driving while intoxicated, Landauer received a sentence of time served.

On June 23, around 8:10 p.m., Landauer, driving his pickup truck drunk, sped across the center line on Route 443 in Knox, and collided head-on with a car driven by Gary Lehmann, 47, of Binghamton, police said. Lehmann died within minutes.

In Albany County Court Tuesday morning, before Judge Stephen Herrick, Landauer offered an apology to Lehmann’s family.

"Words can’t describe how truly sorry I am," said Landauer, struggling to get his words out between sobs. "I’m just sorry."

Landauer was crying at the end of the proceeding as he was led away in handcuffs by members of the Albany County Sheriff’s Department.

Landauer’s attorney, Dennis Schlenker, spoke on behalf on his client, who, he said, is not an eloquent speaker and has never given a speech in his life. Though it is hard to understand, Schlenker told Lehmann’s family and friends, Landauer and his family, "share your loss."

"Justin Landauer, as he stands here, will live with what happened on June 23 for the rest of his life," Schlenker said. "In many respects, that sentence of personal feelings he will carry with him is more punishment than any sentence this court could place upon him."

However, Schlenker said, "He accepts his responsibility. He will accept his punishment."

Herrick was stern. He allowed TV cameras in the courtroom to show the public "a situation that unfortunately happens much too often," Herrick said.

"You made a series of bad decisions...You caused the unnecessary death of a very good man," Herrick told Landauer.

Before the sentencing, a few of Lehmann’s family and friends gave statements. Lehmann’s wife, Brooke, spoke of a baseball field Lehmann built in his yard for his three children, ages nine, five, and two.

"Professor Lehmann built a field of dreams in his backyard and you’ve ended that dream," Herrick told Landauer. "You took away that dream."

Lehmann was a professor of mechanical engineering at the State University of New York at Binghamton. At the time of the crash, he was on his way to join his wife and children for a 10th anniversary party.

"My brother was really a kind person and he had a lot of issues, everyone has, and he stayed a kind person," Lehmann’s sister, Karen Lehmann told the court."

Of Landauer, Karen Lehmann said, "I don’t know what happened in his life any day but the day he hit my brother, but I know that day, Mr. Landauer definitely should not have been driving his truck."

Speaking directly to Landauer, Karen Lehmann said he wasn’t put on the planet to kill people.

"I expect you to rise to the occasion," she said, "to figure out what it is you’re here to do in this world and to open your heart and don’t drink again."

Lehmann’s university colleague, Eric Cotts, a professor of physics, described his friend as someone who was respected and loved as a teacher.

"Gary Lehmann was a man full of kindness and love," Cotts said. "He was a gentle soul with generosity for everyone he met."

Lehmann was a careful thinker, a meticulous researcher, an excellent communicator, and a spokesman for his field, Cotts said. In losing Lehmann, Cotts lost his most important research partner, he said.

In his statement, Cotts quoted a number of Binghamton faculty members and graduate students who spoke highly of Lehmann as a professor and a friend.

"A heinous act has lost Binghamton University one of its finest scholars and people," Cotts said. "A wonderful man has been killed, a guilty plea has been entered. This court must protect society from such a wrongful death happening over again."

Speaking last in the group, Brooke Lehmann asked the judge for the maximum sentence.

"Mr. Landauer, you made reckless and arrogant decisions on the day of June 23...In my view, your reckless decisions resulted in the murder of my husband," Lehmann told Landauer. "You cannot bring Gary back, but you can make sure you never hurt another human being again. Use your life for good, not for ill."

Her husband will not be around to see their children grow up, teach them baseball, and read them stories, Brooke Lehmann told the court.

"‘Till death do us part’ is supposed to mean when we’ve been married for 50 years, not 10," she said. Nothing in her life feels normal anymore, and she is scared all the time, Brooke Lehmann said.

"I talk to Gary every day," she said, "but after awhile, one-way conversations are hollow."

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