Guilty plea in 2014 accident that killed UMass senior  

  • Cynthia May, 65, of Orleans, stands between her attorneys David Angier, left, and Harry Miles, right, on Monday in Hampshire Superior Court when she pleaded guilty to driving to endanger. MICHAEL MAJCHROWICZ

Thursday, July 14, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — The judge looked up on Monday — first to the woman who struck and killed college student Hannah Frilot on a summer night two years ago and then to her family seated at the front of the courtroom.

If it was of any solace at all, “Hannah’s last act, through (the prosecutor), is an act of mercy,” Judge Richard Carey said to her family.

Cynthia May, 65, of Orleans, admitted Monday in Hampshire Superior Court to inadvertently striking the 20-year-old University of Massachusetts Amherst engineering student from behind with her Toyota Rav4 the night of July 31, 2014.

Under the terms of a plea agreement with the state, May will avoid serving time in jail.

Frilot, of Scottsdale, Arizona, was thrown 50 feet on impact and died at the scene, First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne said.

“Why didn’t I see something more?” she asked investigators that night, he added.

Frilot had been walking her bike with a friend in the bike lane of North East Street when May’s vehicle swerved into the lane and hit her.

The last thing the friend remembers, Gagne said, was a “swoosh” sensation to his left.

May originally pleaded not guilty to vehicular homicide, which carried a maximum sentence of 2½ years in the House of Correction.

Carey accepted the deal allowing May to plead guilty to a lesser charge of driving to endanger, which carries a maximum term of 2 years in jail.

As part of the plea agreement, May will remain on probation through 2020, surrender her license for an additional 1½ years, donate $7,500 to the UMass and Amherst police departments for pedestrian safety initiatives, participate in a pedestrian-awareness course and perform 300 hours of community service geared toward pedestrian safety, Gagne told Carey.

“I think, by all accounts, this is the most we can hope for in this case,” Gagne said.

The prosecution maintained that May should have seen Frilot walking in the bike lane and that “something” prevented her from doing so, though he did not offer specifics.

May’s Northampton attorney, Harry Miles, agreed. “Your honor, this is an odd case because we agree on the facts of the case,” he told the judge. “It also took away part of the life of Ms. May who’s been living with this tragedy since it occurred.”

Carey called the Frilots’ loss “indescribable.”

“There’s no disposition in the world that can make up for that loss,” he said.

Before Carey handed down May’s sentence, Hannah’s sister, father and mother addressed the court about the void that formed in Hannah’s absence.

“After losing my sister, Hannah,” Claire Frilot said in court, “I lost a piece of my past, present and future.”

Claire, Hannah’s only sibling, added, “She didn’t get to celebrate my promotion with me or help me through the bad times or fighting with my parents. This is not to forget all that’s been taken or stolen from her.”

Michelle, Hannah’s mother, struggled at times through her sobs as she told the judge about her daughter’s unfinished life.

“Even though it’s been almost two years, I’m not sure I know how to live without her,” she said, “and I’m not sure I want to.”

She continued, “I’ll never listen to her hopes or dreams again, and I’ll never see her start the engineering career she worked so hard for … I’ll never watch her get married.”

A wrongful death lawsuit filed last year by Frilot’s parents against May is still pending.

May, too, had the opportunity to address the court. Her cheeks were beet-red, and she had tears in her eyes as she stood to face the family.

“I do apologize,” she said softly. “I am so, so sorry for your loss.”

Michael Majchrowicz can be reached at mmajchrowicz@gazettenet.com or 413-585-5234.