After an almost three week trial, a Saratoga County Jury today returned a verdict finding Justin Rodriguez guilty of three counts of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, Manslaughter in the Second Degree, Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree, Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated, two counts of Driving  While Intoxicated, Driving While Impaired by the Combined Influence of Drugs and Alcohol, Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a  Motor Vehicle in the First Degree, Reckless Driving, Leaving the Scene Without Reporting Property Damage, and a violation of the “Move Over Law”.  The trial exposed the shocking details of the events leading up to a fatal crash on September 15, 2022.

The evidence at trial showed that on September 15, 2022, the defendant struck and killed Alex Bleickhardt, a 33-year-old tow truck driver, on the northbound shoulder of I-87 between Exits 15 and 16 in the Town of Wilton. The defendant had a history of four prior drunk driving convictions, leading to the permanent revocation of his driver’s license. Despite his revoked license, the defendant obtained a 2008 Chevrolet Silverado work truck, which he was driving at the time of the crash.

Prior to the crash on I-87, the defendant visited the Applebee’s restaurant in the Town of Wilton, where he consumed excessive amounts of alcohol and showed signs of severe intoxication. Despite the pleas and warnings from concerned citizens not to drive, the defendant dismissed their concerns, claiming “he was not afraid to go back to prison.”

The defendant left the restaurant in an extremely intoxicated state and proceeded to drive recklessly through the parking lot, striking multiple curbs and nearly hitting a parked car. Ignoring all pleas and warnings, the defendant drove away at a high rate of speed, even crashing through a metal post and chain barricade in the area of the Hoffman’s Car Wash.

While on I-87 north, the defendant’s erratic driving caught the attention of witnesses, who described him swerving across lanes and driving at a high rate of speed. As he approached a disabled box truck attended to by Mr. Bleickhardt, the defendant made no effort to move over, slow down, or avoid the collision. He rear-ended the box truck, leading to the death of Mr. Bleickhardt.

Throughout the trial, evidence showed that the defendant’s actions were driven by extreme recklessness and that his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was a 0.26% at the time of the crash. In addition to the alcohol, the defendant also had cocaine and cannabis in his system.

The evidence also showed the defendant illegally possessed a loaded semi-automatic pistol in his vehicle. As a convicted felon, the defendant was legally prohibited from possessing a firearm.

District Attorney Karen Heggen stated, “We are pleased the jury recognized the seriousness of the defendant’s actions by finding him guilty of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide. The verdict sends a strong message that dangerous and reckless behavior on our roads will not be tolerated, and those responsible will be held accountable.”

District Attorney Karen Heggen further stated, “Today, justice has been served for Alex Bleickhardt and his grieving family. The defendant’s actions showed a complete disregard for the safety of others, and the tragic consequences of his choices can never be undone. We hope that this verdict brings some measure of closure to Mr. Bleickhardt’s loved ones and serves as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of driving under the influence.”

This case has also shed light on the critical importance of the Move Over Law—a law designed to protect those who serve and protect us on the roadways. The Move Over Law requires drivers to exercise due care and safely move over to an adjacent lane when approaching a stopped emergency vehicle or tow truck with its flashing lights activated. This law is in place to provide first responders, including tow truck drivers, and other roadside workers with the necessary protection they need to carry out their essential duties safely.

The jury deliberated diligently and responsibly, carefully considering the evidence presented in the courtroom. Their unanimous decision to convict Justin Rodriguez of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide reflects the gravity of his actions and the devastation he caused.  Defendant Rodriguez was acquitted of the Depraved Indifference Murder and Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree charges.

DA Heggen noted, “Vehicular Crimes Bureau Chief Senior Assistant District Attorney Shawn Lescault and Assistant District Attorney Kayla Potter, and the entire prosecution team have worked tirelessly to seek justice for the victim and the community. We extend our deepest gratitude to members of the New York State Police, the first responders, and all those who contributed to building a compelling case.  We also want to extend our appreciation to Mr. Bleickhardt’s employer, Towaway, LLC for their unwavering support and presence throughout the trial. Their dedication to standing by Alex’s memory is a testament to the impact he had on the community and the lives he touched.”

The defendant will now face up to a maximum of 12 ½ to 25 years as an indeterminate sentence on the Aggravated Vehicular Homicide charge and up to a 15-year consecutive determinate sentence on the Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree charge. Sentencing is scheduled for September 14, 2023, at 10 a.m., during which time the District Attorney’s Office will seek justice on behalf of the victim and his loved ones.

The District Attorney’s Office would like to express our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Alex Bleickhardt. Their strength and courage throughout this difficult process have been truly inspiring. We hope this verdict provides some measure of comfort and closure as they continue to grieve the loss of their beloved Alex.