Prosecutors said after hitting and nearly killing a cyclist, John Stenzel of Yates County
tampered with evidence to try to cover it up.
The victim, Kevin Royston, lost most of one of his legs. He is struggling to regain the athletic life he once lived. “I’m in prison,” he said in an interview over the phone Wednesday.
The collision happened on a sunny June evening on Townline Road in Rushville. Royston was struck from behind and left in a ditch with a searing pain to his leg.
From the hospital three days later, he said he did not see the car that hit him. But, he remembered distinctly what he heard. “I never heard the car slow down, the guy never even lifted off the pedal. What kind of guy doesn’t stop,” he said.
Police were left with very little. No eye witnesses and only a tiny chip of red paint scraped from the damaged bike.
Tips led police to John Stenzel who lives just up the street. Investigators say he was driving his vintage corvette, a 1963 red stingray. When they located the car, it was severely damaged.
Stenzel told them he thought he had hit a deer.
“The defendant was very proud of that vehicle so one would suspect that even if he struck an animal, and not a human being, he would immediately check to see if there was any damage,” said DA Tantillo.
Crime lab tests eventually matched the paint from the corvette to paint on the bike. But, prosecutors said Stenzel had his own evidence to prove the deer claim. They now contend that evidence was forged.
“It’s alleged he took some deer tissue and deer hair and packed it into the headlight wells of his car,” said Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo.
Stenzel is charged with leaving the scene of an accident with serious injuries and evidence tampering. Both are felonies.
“The ultimate issue is going to come down to what he did and didn’t do after the crash,” said defense attorney Tom Splain. “What he knew or should have known.”
Splain said his client “feels horrible” but contends this was an accident and that his client “didn’t know he hit a person.” Stenzel has pleaded not guilty and posted bail. A judge ordered him to surrender his driver’s license.
Kevin Royston has a prosthetic leg now, but can only wear it for several hours four days a week. He’s developed a complication that may require another surgery. He hopes to get back on his bike, but it may take another year.
He has also waited six months for the arrest. He was surprised to hear of the evidence tampering charge and says, if true, it doubles his anger.
“It’s pretty disgusting that someone would do that. To just run someone over and leave him on the side of the road to die, then go home and try to cover it up like that?”