CLEVELAND (WJW) — The driver who struck and killed a Cleveland firefighter in November is facing life in prison.
Leander Bissell, 44, was sentenced Tuesday morning in the Cuyahoga County Courtroom of Judge Timothy McCormick. He will be eligible for parole after 16 years.
Tetrick was struck and killed while assisting at the scene of a rollover crash near Bratenahl. Police said Bissell drove through the scene of the accident on Interstate 90, plowed into the firefighter and then took off.
Tetrick’s daughters, Falon, Regan and Eden Tetrick, speaking to the court on Tuesday morning remembered their father as a devoted parent, selfless public servant and faithful spreader of the Christian gospel. Johnny’s fellow Cleveland firefighters also filled the back of the courtroom.
“The pain of his absence is a constant reminder of what has been stolen from my sisters and I,” said Regan. “It’s left a void that cannot be filled.
“Grief has become a constant companion and the pain lingers in every aspect of my life. I struggle to find meaning in a world that seems unjust and cruel.”
Eden recalled asking her father that, if ever he was posed with a choice to save himself or others, that he would choose to save himself.
“He pulled me close and said he couldn’t promise me that and that he loved the people he worked with — and that if any one of them was in danger he would happily take his place,” she said. “This does not mean that the pain I feel is dulled in any way. I would give absolutely anything to be held in my father’s arms again and to hear him say that everything is going to be OK.”
Despite the raw pain on display Tuesday, Eden turned to Bissell to tell him she does not hate him.
“I hate that I will have all those images burned in my brain from both that night and this trial and that I will never get to make new memories with him,” she said. “What I hate the most is that there are other people who my father never touched. … And so I pray this touches your life. I do not hate you. In fact, I forgive you for what you’ve done.
“I just hope that what your life looks like now is for the good of someone else.”
Watch the sentencing hearing below:
Judge McCormick said one can take the measure of a man by “how their children turned out.”
“Your father obviously was a great role model for you and obviously, the support of his firefighters here today — he meant a lot to them as well,” he said. “Anything I’d say would obviously not ease the pain. I just hope you can move forward with your life. Remember the good things; remember the special times you had.”
A defense attorney said Bissell is a father of three children, including a newborn, who worked multiple jobs, attended Tri-C and started his own clothing line — all to provide for his family and friends.
Bissell, in a lengthy statement before his sentencing, apologized to the court and Tetrick’s daughters, and appeared earnest in taking responsibility for Tetrick’s death.
“I especially want to say sorry to his daughters. A child-parent relationship is the most important and beautiful thing in the world,” Bissell said. “A family hero; a community hero is gone. Mr. Tetrick’s occupation can never be replaced to refilled, nor his dad duties to love and protect and provide.
“The best apology I can give is changed behavior.”
Bissell was sentenced to 15 years to life on his charges of murder, felonious assault and vehicular homicide, which were merged at sentencing due to their similarity. He was also sentenced to an additional year in prison for failing to stop after the accident, which must be served in addition to his life sentence.
He’s also now under a lifetime suspension of his driver’s license.
Bissell was also sentenced Tuesday to three to four-and-a-half years in a separate drug trafficking case.
Prosecutors filed a sentencing memorandum Monday saying Bissell is also a dangerous drug dealer who should be sentenced to prison.
Just hours before Bissell drove through the accident scene and killed Tetrick, he was arranging a drug deal, the memorandum states.
“Defendant acknowledges he had 20 pills on him, but more at home,” the memorandum states. “These pills are the same as those found during the execution of the search warrant.”
The document adds that lab testing confirmed the pills found in the defendant’s home contained methamphetamine.
“Defendant is a dangerous drug dealer,” the prosecutor stated in the sentencing document. “Dangerous not so much in that he deals narcotics — that goes without saying. What makes him particularly dangerous is that he does not know what he’s selling. As highlighted in his text message with his potential buyer: ‘I got 20 on me but got more off them [six] I don’t know what they is.’ This country is facing an epidemic of fentanyl-related overdose death. Just in our county alone, most of those deaths are the result of a user believing they are consuming one substance — i.e. cocaine or heroin — but the substance is cut with fentanyl, or worse, is pure fentanyl. Defendant was attempting to sell pills with no idea what they were — which poses significant threat to the public.”