Former Boston University professor Robert Zelnick was found guilty Tuesday of vehicular homicide in a case involving the death of a motorcyclist dating back to 2011.
Plymouth Country Assistant District Attorney Peter Maguire said Judge Thomas Kirkman found Zelnick, a former journalism professor, guilty on Tuesday. Kirkman convicted Zelnick for the negligent operation of a motor vehicle, which caused the death of Brendan Kennedy, a 26-year-old motorcyclist from Plymouth.
The fatal accident occurred when Zelnick, driving home after a round of golf on Oct. 7, 2011, failed to see Kennedy in the oncoming lane when making a left turn onto the highway. He struck Kennedy, who was on his motorcycle, at the intersection of Clark Road and Route 3.
“He [Zelnick] was convicted after the trial and he was sentenced to three years probation and a mandatory license loss during that time,” Maguire said.
Maguire said one is convicted of vehicular manslaughter if he or she operates a motor vehicle negligently or recklessly, resulting in the death of another. He said the incident involving Zelnick and Kennedy was ultimately considered more than just an accident, and was treated legally as such, due to Zelnick’s careless driving.
Maguire said Zelnick originally pleaded not guilty, claiming he was not driving negligently. However, he was found guilty after a two-day bench trial at Plymouth District Court.
In addition to three years probation and a temporarily suspended license, Defense Attorney Raffi Yessayan said court officials also ordered Zelnick to send a written apology letter to the Kennedy family.
“It was an appropriate sentence given the circumstances,” Yessayan said. “There was nothing intentional, malicious or reckless in what Mr. Zelnick did.”
Alcohol or drugs were not a factor in this incident, Yessayan said. Due to this information, and the fact that Zelnick did not intentionally or maliciously hit Kennedy, the judge did not deem it necessary to sentence Zelnick to jail time.
“He [Zelnick] was just somebody who went to make a left turn,” Yessayan said. “Somebody is dead, but a lot of times you have someone drunk driving, causing an accident and causing someone’s death, or speeding or racing or operating recklessly or something very dangerous.”
Yessayan said although Zelnick’s license is only temporarily suspended, he has not driven since the incident and does not plan on doing so even after his sentence is over.
This incident has taken a major toll on Zelnick, Yessayan said. In addition to stress brought on by the accident, Zelnick is currently dealing with health issues, and is grieving along with the Kennedy family.
“Out of respect for the Kennedy family, he [Zelnick] offers his condolences to them — both families have been destroyed,” Yessayan said. “The Kennedy family has lost a son tragically, and they are not going to have him back, and this has had a significant impact on his [Zelnick’s] health and well-being.”
Yessayan offered his personal condolences to the Zelnick and Kennedy families.
“I hope someday they can move on with their lives,” Yessayan said. “I know how difficult it is going to be able to do that over the loss of a young man.”
BU spokesman Colin Riley said Zelnick is currently not teaching any students at the university. BU officials do not know if Zelnick plans on returning back to the Charles River Campus to teach now that the trial is over.