EUGENE, Ore. — A Colorado trucker who nearly killed a Black man by slashing his neck in an unprovoked attack at an eastern Oregon truck stop was sentenced on Thursday to 16 years in federal prison.
Nolan Levi Strauss, 27, pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime involving an attempt to kill, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
His lawyer argued that Strauss committed the crime because he was off his mental health medication and having a manic episode. But prosecutors said there was no mistaking Strauss’ racial animosity in the Dec. 21, 2019, ambush in Ontario.
Strauss, of Colorado Springs, walked into the Arby’s next to the Pilot Travel Center along Interstate 84 near the Idaho border and stabbed Ronnell Hughes in the neck.
Hughes grabbed his attacker’s hands and fought for control of the knife before he was able to break free from Strauss. Truck stop workers subdued Strauss.
Hughes was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and then flown by helicopter to Boise, Idaho, for emergency surgery.
As Strauss was being restrained, a worker asked him why he attacked a stranger, and Strauss responded, “Because he was Black and I don’t like Black people,” according to prosecutors.
Hughes flew to Oregon from Jacksonville, Florida, on Wednesday night for the sentencing and said he had never seen his attacker “because he snuck up behind me” as he sat there.
“I don’t have any enemies and for someone to just sneak up on me and try to take my life from me ... I’m angry, somebody I don’t even know,” Hughes, 49, told U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane in a Eugene courtroom.
The slashing cut his jugular vein and injured his thyroid cartilage. Hughes required months of physical therapy to regain his voice and motion in his neck and arm.
The prosecutor played segments of a police interview with Strauss after his arrest as he continued to say he targeted Hughes only because he was Black and reiterated his disdain for Black people, reciting a series of epithets.
Strauss in court acknowledged that he targeted Hughes because of the color of his skin.
“I’m extremely sorry for what I did. I wouldn’t do that in my right state of mind,” he said. “I’m happy that he survived.”
Strauss said he’s learned that he must “take his meds at all times.”