DRIVER FACES VICTIM'S FAMILY

TIM O'BRIEN Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Saturday, February 27, 1999

Troy Michele Tracey stood, her face puffy and eyes red, as the sister of the teen she killed while driving drunk denounced her as a coward who had not learned her lesson.


``As a result of the fatal choices you made on April 19, 1998, my life and the lives of my family have forever been changed,'' Melissa Bodnar told Tracey at her sentencing Friday in Rensselaer County Court. ``After crashing a bridal shower, consuming 10 to 12 drinks, and ignoring pleas not to drive, you sped away in your car, struck my little sister and left her lying under a parked car at the side of the road to die.'' The 28-year-old Watervliet woman will likely serve 5 years of a 2-to-8-year sentence for manslaughter, driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of a personal-injury accident for striking Allison Bodnar, who was 16 at the time, as she stood with friends on Congress Street.


After hitting Bodnar, Tracey then drove to a bar, consumed one or two more drinks, then called a cab to take her home to Watervliet, according to authorities. While Tracey told police she knew she ``hit something,'' a witness from the bar was prepared to testify she admitted hitting ``a girl.''


``The sad reality is that a $6 cab ride from the bridal shower to the bar would have saved my sister's life,'' Melissa Bodnar said. ``This thought is just one of the many that keep me awake at night. If you had taken a cab to the bar in the first place, Allie would be alive today.''


Bodnar, Rensselaer County District Attorney Kenneth Bruno and Judge Patrick McGrath all excoriated Tracey for her admission in a pre-sentencing report that she has continued to drink.


Bruno called for Tracey to undergo alcohol treatment in prison and to be barred from consumption while on parole. Upon her release, she has agreed to talk to high-school classes about the dangers of drinking and driving -- once on April 19, the date of the accident, and again on Sept. 8, Allison's birthday.


After listening to Bruno and Bodnar question her character, Tracey made only a brief statement. ``I just want to apologize,'' she said. ``I'm very sorry, and I am taking responsibility.''


Her attorney, Peter Gerstenzang, said what happened to Michele Tracey could happen to anyone who drives drunk.


``You would think she was some kind of demon, some kind of person separate and distinct from the rest of us,'' he said. ``The problem is Michele Tracey is like the rest of us. Prior to this crime, she had no record. She had committed no crimes. She was well-known. She was well-liked until this fatal decision.''


Now, Tracey is on her way to prison, leaving her daughter, Samantha, in the custody of her aunt. Samantha, whose father was killed several years ago in a car accident, turned 10 Thursday.


McGrath said Tracey is the victim of her own actions, and he, too, expressed shock she is still drinking.


``If you haven't realized by now that you have a drinking problem, I don't think you ever will,'' the judge said. ``You continue to be a risk to the community with your alcoholism unchecked.''


Afterward, Allison's father, Dean, said no sentence could ever provide justice. ``I just hope she is smart enough to recognize what she's done,'' he said. ``She is mostly sorry for what she has done to herself and her family. I don't think she realizes what she has done to us.''