What started for Paul Nicholson II as a run to McDonald’s to grab some food to soak up the alcohol he’d been drinking all day June 7, 2013, ended with a tragic ripple that reverberated through the lives of dozens.
There were the two bus drivers who watched in horror as the drunken 28-year-old man’s F-250 pickup plowed through 55-year-old Jamie Jo McBride as she passed through a crosswalk on Ballston Avenue in Saratoga Springs, her body flung beneath the vehicle’s rear tire. There was the teenager who ran to the dying woman crumpled in the street, cradling her head and holding her broken umbrella to shield her from the rain.
Then there was the mother stopped at the intersection who was left speechless when her two young children in the car asked what had happened to McBride. There was the woman who was planning to celebrate her wedding anniversary, only to have the horrific image of McBride’s last moments of life burned into her memory.
There was McBride’s older sister, who had lingering hopes of getting her mentally ill sibling help, only to have them extinguished. And there was her estranged family in Washington state — her two children growing from adolescence into adulthood — left without any hope of rekindling a relationship with their mother.
“The terrible consequences of Mr. Nicholson’s choices that afternoon radiate outward,” said Matthew Coseo, an assistant Saratoga County prosecutor, during Nicholson’s sentencing Friday morning. “He has caused immeasurable damage to not only . . . the families, but also to the many innocents who bore witness to this accident.”
Nicholson, now 29, was ordered to serve 3 to 9 years in prison Friday, after he admitted to two counts of first-degree manslaughter as part of a plea agreement. At Nicholson’s sentencing, Coseo and members of McBride’s family focused on the tragic impact his choice to drive that day had on their lives.
“My greatest regret is that, despite my efforts, I was unable to help Jamie while she was living. There was always a chance that she would accept the help she needed,” said Virginia Schindler, McBride’s older sister. “Paul Nicholson took that hope away.”
But there were many others impacted by the crash, including Nicholson’s family. His mother, a former substance abuse counselor, tried repeatedly to get him treatment for his alcoholism, which was taking a toll on his job at Quad Graphics, and his father told him nothing good could come from his heavy drinking.
“We tried,” said Nicholson’s father as he later consoled Schindler outside the courtroom, his voice trembling. “We tried so hard. . . . I told him something like this could happen. I knew something like this would happen.”
There was also Nicholson himself, who had a prior conviction for driving while ability impaired. At one point, he said he managed to stay sober for 17 months, only to relapse and start a two-year spiral of drinking that ended with McBride’s death.
“I would never imagine anything like this to happen again,” he told Judge Jerry Scarano during the hearing. “I never intend on drinking again. I don’t even plan on driving again.”
Kevin O’Brien, Nicholson’s attorney, said his client stands as an example of how the criminal justice system is failing to treat the disease of alcoholism. While acknowledging McBride’s death was a tragedy, he doesn’t think terms of incarceration are helping alcoholics get the treatment they need.
“It is a disease,” he said. “It is a disease that affects many, many people in this country, and unfortunately, I don’t think we’re dealing with it effectively.”
On the day of the crash, Nicholson had worked through the predawn hours and spent the day drinking at several downtown bars. He plowed into McBride, who was wearing a red fleece jacket and carrying a large umbrella, as she reached the middle of the road on the ‘walk’ signal to cross. The impact threw McBride to the road. Nicholson, who was later found to have a blood-alcohol content of 0.18 percent, continued through the turn, causing the passenger side wheels to run over McBride.
McBride earned a dual master’s degree from Bowling Green State University and worked as a speech pathologist, but she struggled with mental illness. She left her family in Washington and moved to Saratoga Springs several years ago because she had happy memories of her family visiting the city when she was a child.
McBride was initially described by police as homeless, but she had a trust fund and continued to keep in touch with her children. In a statement, her ex-husband, Gregory Tardanico, said the family will never get a chance to reconcile with McBride.
“Those better last memories will never be had,” Coseo read from Tardanico’s letter during the sentencing. “Those better last words will never be spoken.”