B U F F A L O N E W S buffalonews.com
The Thruway Authority has started poking into the actions of David L. Zelonis, the toll collector whom sheriff’s deputies accused of trying to intimidate anti-tolls activist Rus Thompson.
While Zelonis remains on the job, Thruway Authority spokesman Richard Bennett said officials are trying to determine if their toll taker used authority time or resources to conduct a threatening e-mail campaign against Thompson.
If he did, then Zelonis might have violated the authority’s rules, Bennett said.
“Depending upon the outcome of the authority’s investigation, the authority will take appropriate administrative action,” he said.
Donna J. Luh of Depew, a Thruway Authority board member from Western New York, said she wants an investigation into how Zelonis knew that Thompson’s E-ZPass had been revoked.
“Depending on the outcome of the investigation, I’m certain disciplinary action is something that would be and should be considered,” she said by e-mail.
Zelonis, 52, faces a misdemeanor charge of aggravated harassment. He is accused of sending threatening e-mails to Thompson, the Grand Island resident out to rid the Grand Island bridges of Thruway tolls.
Zelonis works as a toll collector on Grand Island. In speaking to a sheriff’s lieutenant and later The Buffalo News, he admitted being motivated by fear of losing his job if Thompson succeeded.
“He said we were overpaid, and he said we shouldn’t be there,” Zelonis explained.
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Zelonis knew that Thompson’s E-ZPass had been revoked, purportedly for speeding through a toll booth.
“Your E-ZPass tag was revoked for speeding through the lanes. Maybe the public should be made aware just how irresponsible you are.”
Bennett did not answer questions about whether toll collectors would have such information as part of their normal duties. Luh said she wants to know how Zelonis obtained that detail.
Zelonis said last week that he still was employed at his Thruway Authority job, which pays $21 an hour.
After talking to a lawyer, he said Grand Island Town Court could grant him a conditional discharge, if he stays out of trouble for six months. His court date is May 6.