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Tappan Zee jumper gets probation in 'lovers leap' that killed girlfriend

The Tappan Zee Bridge photographed on the north

The Tappan Zee Bridge photographed on the north side during a tour provided by the New York Thruway Authority. (March 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Rory Glaeseman

A Bronx man who survived a naked leap off the Tappan Zee Bridge with his girlfriend last year was sentenced Monday in White Plains to five years of probation for assisting her suicide.

Christopher Shears, who suffered broken ribs and other injuries in the July 2011 leap that killed teacher Alfa Choice, spoke in a whisper as he apologized to her gathered family.

"I'm sorry for the pain I caused," said Shears, 45, who removed his wire-rimmed glasses and adjusted his gray sweatsuit as he stood for sentencing before Westchester state Supreme Court Justice Albert Lorenzo.

Members of Choice's family, who filled the front row of Lorenzo's courtroom, shook their heads but said nothing, quickly leaving the courtroom after Shears was sentenced.

One family member responded with an obscene gesture and a profanity when asked by reporters to comment on the case.

In June, Christopher Shears pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter for intending to aid in the suicide of his 29-year-old girlfriend, a former Bronx biology teacher.

The plunge off the middle of the bridge on July 12, 2011, left Shears with fluid-filled lungs in addition to the broken ribs and other internal injuries.

Police say Shears and Choice, who lived together in Ithaca, parked a Chevy Tahoe on the bridge and climbed on its roof to scale a 5-foot railing meant to prevent jumpers.

Though Choice was having second thoughts, she reluctantly jumped after Shears "nudged" her along, according to law enforcement sources.

Whether Shears urged Choice to jump or physically shoved her is unclear.

Westchester County prosecutors did not charge Shears with the crime until April.

Choice's father did write a letter to Lorenzo, but he didn't read it in court.

"It's obviously a very sad situation," Lorenzo said before pronouncing sentence. As part of Shears' probation, he must undergo mental health counseling throughout the five years.

"Mental illness is a very difficult thing to deal with," said Robin Bauer, Shears' court-appointed lawyer.

Choice was plucked out of the Hudson River but died of her injuries. She was a Cornell University graduate who had taught at Bronx High School of Science for several years in the mid-2000s.

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