AUBURN — Last fall, authorities said Eric Simmons parked a red tractor in a family's driveway in the town of Owasco, placed a large cutout of a black bear in the front yard and fired a shotgun before fleeing the scene with his 14-year-old son. And while Simmons said most of that was true, he disputed some of the details during a court appearance Tuesday.
Simmons, of 4286 Baptist Corners Road, Owasco, pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a class D felony, and one count of second-degree menacing with a weapon, second-degree obstructing governmental administration and endangering the welfare of a child, all class A misdemeanors.
According to the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office, at around 10:50 p.m. Nov. 5, Simmons harassed a family on North Road over a "landlord-tenant dispute." At the time, deputies said Simmons was a friend of the landlord, who had a rent disagreement with the family.
The Cayuga County Sheriff's Office is investigating after a man and a 14-year-old harassed a…
Citing court papers, Judge Mark Fandrich said Simmons had pointed a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun in the family's direction and discharged the weapon.
However, during his appearance in front of the judge, the 51-year-old shared a slightly different version of events. Simmons argued that he accidentally fired the shotgun into the air. Regardless of how or where it discharged, he admitted his intent to frighten the family and said he possessed the weapon illegally. He also said he illegally possessed additional weapons at his home.
Next, Fandrich said Simmons had refused to comply with law enforcement, who had to physically remove him from his vehicle upon his arrest. Again, Simmons disagreed, stating he was physically unable to exit the vehicle, which had crashed into a ditch.
"I wasn't trying to give them a hard time," he said. "This all happened in a second or two."
In response, Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann said the vehicle crashed following a pursuit with police, a pursuit that inherently tried to impede the investigation. Simmons admitted to obstructing officers by fleeing.
Finally, the court said Simmons endangered his son, who he forced to drive to and from the scene. While Simmons admitted that his son drove his truck, he claimed the two were "practicing driving," not fleeing from police.
"Give me a break," Fandrich said, shaking his head.
Budelmann stepped in, saying Simmons had been intoxicated and was not practicing driving with his 14-year-old son at 11 o'clock at night. Simmons then agreed he had put his son in danger by making him witness and participate in the crime.
In exchange for his pleas of guilty, Fandrich said he would sentence Simmons to no worse than one to three years in prison and no less than shock probation. Simmons could have faced up to seven years in prison on each felony. He will remain free on $10,000 cash bail pending sentencing July 31.
The case drew attention late last year when local community leaders asked the sheriff's office to further investigate the possibility that a hate crime had been committed, as one of the victims was black. However, New York State Police confirmed there was not enough evidence to charge Simmons with a racially motivated hate crime.