A woman who famously forgave a teen after he nearly killed her by throwing a frozen turkey through her windshield in 2004 has died. She was 59.
Victoria Ruvolo made national headlines 15 years ago when she persuaded prosecutors to be lenient with Ryan Cushing, then an 18-year-old whose random act of violence broke nearly every bone in Ruvolo’s face.
Thanks to Ruvolo's public act of forgiveness, Cushing — who was facing up to 25 years in prison — was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation in 2005.
“It is with a very heavy heart that we announce the sudden and unexpected passing of our beloved Vickie,” a post on Ruvolo’s Facebook page said Tuesday evening. The post did not say how Ruvolo died.
On Nov. 13, 2004, a group of teens in Long Island, New York, used a stolen credit card to buy video games, DVDs, and groceries, including a 20-pound frozen turkey.
Ruvolo was two blocks from her house after attending a concert when Cushing hurled the turkey out of the rear window of their car that was going in the opposite direction, according to news reports and Ruvolo's website.
The turkey crashed through the windshield of Ruvolo's car and bent her steering wheel inward, before hitting her face. The impact caused her esophagus to cave in, shattered her cheeks and jaw, and fractured one of her eye sockets. She also suffered brain damage.
Ruvolo was in a medically induced coma for two weeks and underwent a 10-hour facial reconstruction surgery along with months of rehabilitation. Doctors at the time said it was a miracle she survived.
Cushing, who was then a freshman at the State University of New York at Farmingdale, was arrested soon after the incident, along with the four other teens who were in the car. The driver, Jack Cutrone, told police that Cushing ignored his warnings to not throw the turkey, which Cushing had bought to cook in his dorm.
“He said something like, ‘If I throw it at the door, it won’t hurt nobody,'” Cutrone told police, according to the New York Post.
Cushing was indicted on charges of first-degree assault and other offenses for which he would have faced up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
However, Ruvolo managed to persuade then–Suffolk County district attorney Thomas Spota to go easy on the teen and insisted that he be given a lenient sentence, the New York Times reported.
Spota said at the time that he agreed to a plea bargain for Cushing only on Ruvolo’s insistence. Cushing ended up pleading guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree assault on Aug. 15, 2005.
“With crime victims, normally they have just the opposite reaction, and death doesn’t even satisfy them,” Spota told the Times after the hearing. “She is just an extraordinary person.”
News reports at the time described a dramatic and emotional moment between Ruvolo and Cushing after the court hearing.
Cushing approached Ruvolo as she was leaving the courtroom and repeatedly told her “I’m so sorry” as he sobbed uncontrollably, the Times reported.
Ruvolo reportedly hugged him tight, stroked his face, and patted his back, telling him, “It’s OK, it's OK,” during their whispered exchange.
“I just want you to make your life the best it can be,” she added.
During his sentencing hearing a few months later, the judge told Cushing that he had been given “an extraordinary gift.”
While reading a formal statement in court, Cushing turned to Ruvolo and told her, “Your ability to forgive has had a profound effect on me. It has already made a positive change in my life.”
Despite their emotional moment in court months earlier, Ruvolo told Cushing she had not absolved him.
“I expect you to take the consequences of your actions, both criminally and civilly,” she said.
Ruvolo and Cushing settled a civil lawsuit in 2009 for an undisclosed amount, Newsday reported. The other teens in the car pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were sentenced to probation.
Ruvolo later became an inspirational speaker, giving speeches to inmates and troubled youth on the power of forgiveness. She also cowrote a book in 2011 called No Room For Vengeance about the incident.
“I felt like I had someone’s life in my hands,” Ruvolo told Newsday in 2011. “I had been through what I had to go through. I didn’t want to see a life rot away in jail. I didn’t see how that would help me move up and move forward.”
Cushing did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday, but also told Newsday in 2011 that Ruvolo had done “a big thing.”
“She did what a lot of people I know wouldn’t have done," he said. “She wanted to figure out the truth of what happened and I am grateful for that. I owe her a lot.”