A stroll on a gorgeous autumn afternoon turned tragic for two families on Sunday when a motorcyclist veered off Tonawanda Creek Road and plowed into a group of pedestrians on the Amherst bike path, killing two women and injuring a man.
Jocelyn B. Elberson, 25, of Town of Tonawanda, and Sheila Pelton, 81, of East Amherst, were both taken to Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, where they were pronounced dead. Pelton’s husband, Foster, 79, was taken by ambulance to Erie County Medical Center with serious injuries.
The motorcycle operator, David A. Smith, 53, of Niagara Falls, was charged with driving while intoxicated and criminally negligent homicide. Smith also could face more charges, according to Amherst police.
The crash occurred about 3:20 p.m. on a curvy stretch of Tonawanda Creek Road, between Campbell Boulevard and Hopkins Road.
Elberson was on a walk with her cockapoo puppy; her mother, Kathleen; and an aunt when the out-of-control Harley-Davidson motorcycle came hurtling toward the group, according to Elberson’s brother, Brett.
“She was a beautiful soul, always had a smile on her face,” Brett Elberson said of his sister.
Jocelyn did not frequently walk on the bike path just south of Tonawanda Creek, but when her mother and aunt invited her to join them she welcomed the opportunity to bring her new dog and enjoy the unseasonably warm day, he said.
The Elbersons did not know the Peltons, who happened to be on the path at the same time, Brett Elberson said.
Jocelyn Elberson was a 2005 graduate of Kenmore West High School. She was born with a genetic condition known as Williams syndrome, with special needs similar to those that accompany Down syndrome, although she was very high functioning and very sociable, her brother said.
“She really enjoyed company,” he said.
Jocelyn Elberson had been working as a prep cook at Bonefish Grill in the Boulevard Mall since 2006.
Williams Syndrome often is characterized by cardiovascular disease, developmental delays and learning disabilities, according to the Williams Syndrome Association website.
Brett Elberson said his sister survived open-heart surgery just six months ago, only to be killed in a freakish crash that the family was struggling to digest.
“It’s still a dream. It’s not real,” he said.
The motorcycle lay mangled for hours after the crash on a grassy area just off the bike path, as investigators took measurements to try and better understand what happened. A quarter-mile section of the road was closed for several hours.
Erie County Assistant District Attorney Kelley Omel assisted the police in obtaining a court order to have blood drawn from Smith for a blood-alcohol content reading.
Smith was heading westbound on Tonawanda Creek Road when he hit the pedestrians.
Amherst Police Capt. Patrick M. McKenna said at the scene that he didn’t have details on which direction the pedestrians were heading at the time.
The path runs parallel to the road, just south of a winding Tonawanda Creek. At the area where the pedestrians were struck, the path is just a few feet from the shoulder of the road and there is no guard rail. At other points, the path meanders further away from the road.