The Thruway toll collector accused of trying to intimidate an anti-toll activist appeared in Grand Island Town Court to face charges Wednesday.
And his intended target, Rus Thompson, was there to get a glimpse of the man accused of threatening him by e-mail for two years.
“I actually wanted to see what he looked like. I had no clue,” Thompson said outside the courtroom. “Who is this big, brave guy who’s been threatening me for two years? He didn’t look so brave today, did he?”
David L. Zelonis, 52, was arraigned Wednesday before Town Justice Sybil E. Kennedy, who scheduled him to appear back in court June 17 for further proceedings.
Kennedy reaffirmed the order requiring Zelonis to stay away from Thompson.
Zelonis faces a misdemeanor charge of aggravated harassment. He is accused of sending threatening e-mails to Thompson, a town resident who is trying to rid the island’s bridges of Thruway tolls. Thompson said he had received e-mails from an anonymous critic for almost two years. When the sender let Thompson know that he knew where he lived — “Fire on Tracey Lane,” one message said — he contacted the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.
“WHERE OH WHERE IS JOHN RUS THOMPSON?” another message said in 2008. “LITTLE JOHNNY’S SLEEPING IN THE GRAVEYARD. . . .”
Those e-mails, and others like them, were sent from addresses difficult to trace. Then, in March, e-mails similar in tone arrived from an account with Zelonis’ name attached.
Zelonis works as a toll collector on Grand Island. In speaking to a sheriff’s lieutenant, and later to The Buffalo News, he admitted being motivated by fear of losing his job if Thompson succeeded.
Zelonis and his attorney declined to comment.
The Thruway Authority intends to take its own disciplinary action against Zelonis, a spokeswoman said by e-mail.