ITHACA, N.Y.—District Attorney Matthew Van Houten announced today, Jan. 21, 2022, that 38-year-old Robert J. DeFelice of Ithaca entered a guilty plea to the Class B felony of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide.

DeFelice admitted to driving recklessly while operating a vehicle under the influence of cocaine with a blood alcohol content greater than .18% in the Town of Ithaca on July 21, 2021. DeFelice drove his vehicle onto the shoulder of Route 96 near Indian Creek Farm, striking two of four girls walking along the road and killing 14-year-old Sophia Nickerson, who was a student at the Lehman Alternative Community School.

Van Houten called Nickerson a “beloved daughter, grand-daughter, niece, sister and friend to many.”

“I would like to recognize the members of the community who stepped forward in the immediate wake of this tragedy to provide care to the victims and to ensure that the perpetrator was caught. Additionally, the professional response of both the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office and the Ithaca Police Department ensured that the defendant was brought to justice. It is meaningful that the defendant pleaded guilty to the most serious charge. While nothing can make this tragedy less painful for the victim’s family, the defendant’s acceptance of responsibility represents a small measure of justice,” Van Houten said.

Assistant District Attorney Daniel Johnson prosecuted the case with attorney Jason Leifer representing the defendant.

The maximum possible sentence is a term of eight and two-thirds to 25 years in New York State prison. Sentencing is scheduled for 2 p.m. March 3, 2022, before County Court Judge Joseph R. Cassidy.

Zoë Freer-Hessler is the digital editor/reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Joining in November 2021, she has covered a wide range of topics related to local news. She can be reached at,...