Saratoga County District Attorney Karen A. Heggen reports that Justin P. Rodriguez, (dob 4/9/1981) was sentenced today by Saratoga County Court Judge Honorable James A. Murphy, III today to an aggregate maximum term of 22 ½ years in state prison for his actions which caused the death of Alex Bleickhardt on September 15, 2022 along I-87 in the Town of Wilton. This includes the maximum term of 12 ½ to 25 years on the Aggravated Vehicular Homicide charge and a 10-year consecutive sentence for the Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree conviction. Defendant Rodriguez was sentenced as a second felony offender due to his previous felony DWI convictions.
After a three-week trial in July, 2023, a Saratoga County Jury returned a guilty verdict for three counts Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, “Class B” felonies, in violation of NYS Penal Law Sections 125.14(1), 125.14(2)(b) and 125.14(3); Manslaughter in the Second Degree, a “Class C” felony, in violation of NYS Penal Law Section 125.15(1); Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, a “Class C” violent felony, in violation of NYS Penal Law Section 265.03(3); Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree, a “Class D” felony, in violation of NYS Penal Law Section 265.02(1); Leaving the Scene Without Reporting Property Damage, a violation of Section 660(1)(a) of the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law and a violation of the “Move Over Law”, in violation of NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1144-A(b).
At sentencing, Judge Murphy dismissed the counts of 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 and Reckless Driving, because they are lesser included offenses of the more serious convictions and merge by operation of law
The evidence presented during the trial painted a harrowing picture of events leading up to the September 15, 2022 fatal crash on I-87 in the Town of Wilton. Rodriguez, who had a history of four prior drunk driving convictions, had a permanently revoked driver’s license.
The testimony at trial showed that on the evening of September 15, 2022, Defendant Rodriguez visited an Applebee’s restaurant in the Town of Wilton, where he consumed excessive amounts of alcohol and exhibited severe signs of intoxication. Despite pleas and warnings from concerned citizens imploring him not to drive, Rodriguez defiantly stated, “I’ve been to prison before and I’m not afraid to go back.”
Defendant Rodriguez fled the restaurant in his Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck in a dangerously intoxicated state, driving recklessly through the parking lot. His erratic behavior continued as he proceeded to crash through a metal post and chain barricade near the Hoffman’s Car Wash in Wilton.
While traveling on I-87 north, the Defendant’s reckless driving caught the attention of witnesses who described him swerving across multiple lanes of travel and driving at a dangerously high speed. Approaching a disabled box truck and a heavy-duty tow truck on the shoulder of the roadway, Rodriguez made no effort to move over, slow down, or avoid a collision. Defendant Rodriguez rear-ended the box truck at 76 miles per hour; the impact resulted in the tragic death of Alex Bleickhardt.
The evidence at trial also demonstrated that Rodriguez’s actions were driven by extreme recklessness, with his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) measured at 0.26% at the time of the crash, more than three times the legal limit of .08. Additionally, the defendant had cocaine and cannabis in his system. Rodriguez was also found to be in possession of a loaded semi-automatic pistol; as a convicted felon, Rodriguez was prohibited from possessing firearms.
District Attorney Karen Heggen 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 choice to drive while under the influence can never be undone.”
Heggen stated her entire office extends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Alex Bleickhardt. “The strength and courage of Alex’s family and friends throughout this difficult process have been truly inspiring. We hope the significant sentence today imposed by the court provides a conclusion for the family and friends of the criminal process, but we recognize they continue to grieve the loss of their beloved Alex.” Many of Alex’s family and friends attended the sentencing, including Moose, his canine companion who was in the tow truck when Alex was struck and killed while attending to the disabled box truck.
Heggen also praised the tireless work of the prosecution team from the District Attorney’s office, led by Assistant District Attorneys Shawn Lescault and Kayla Potter, and supported by Investigator Jack Barney and Carley Cogdill, who all worked tirelessly to bring a compelling case to the jury, which concluded in the jury’s guilty verdicts.
In her victim impact statement, Alex’s mother, Beth Shropshire-Bruno told the courtroom, “Justin Rodriguez killed my son. He robbed Alex’s son of his father. He has yet to shed one obvious tear or show shame for his actions. If given the chance, like he has in the past, Justin Rodriguez will continue to engage in unlawful behavior. Justin Rodriguez is a killer and my 33- year-old firstborn funny, honest, hardworking, loveable son is dead.”
Senior Assistant District Attorney Shawn Lescault stated during sentencing, “Tomorrow marks the painful anniversary of Alex’s passing—a day etched in the hearts of his loved ones. We hope Alex’s family may find some solace in knowing that justice has been served in this case. For the Defendant, tomorrow marks a different realization – the beginning of a 22 ½ year chapter behind bars, a consequence of his reckless and selfish behavior. May this case serve as a stark reminder that intoxicated and reckless driving on our roads will be met with severe and lasting consequences.”
DA Heggen noted, “I commend the work and dedication of the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations and the Troop G Collision Reconstruction Unit for their exceptional efforts in investigating and reconstructing the events surrounding this tragic incident. Their thorough and professional work played a crucial role in ensuring that justice was served for Alex Bleickhardt and his grieving family.”