NEWTON, NJ – Eric Strand, a former Hopatcong Middle School teacher, former Succasunna Boy Scout leader and former Roxbury firefighter, was sentenced this week to three years in prison for kissing and fondling a 14-year-old student, according to a published report.
Strand, 57, was sentenced May 18 by state Superior Court Judge William McGovern in Newton, according to the New Jersey Herald of Newton. The judge imposed a 3-year state prison term and ordered Strand to pay $330 in fines, register with the Megan’s Law sexual predator database and remain on parole supervision for life, according to the Herald. The paper said McGovern also ordered Strand to submit a sample of his DNA.
Strand, who taught at Hopatcong for 19 years, was arrested last July after an investigation that involved Roxbury Police, Hopatcong Borough Police and the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office. His actions were brought to the attention of police by the girl's parents, according to the Herald.
He pleaded guilty in February to second-degree endangering the welfare of a child and to third-degree criminal sexual content.
“I didn’t intend to hurt (the victim) or anyone,” said Strand at the sentencing, according to the report, which said he blamed the incidents on an “egregious lack of judgment.” It noted Strand's lawyer sought a suspended prison term, pointing to Strand's many years of community service, said the report.
A prior article said the girl was one of Strand’s students and it cited a police affidavit that said Strand first kissed the girls shoulder and mouth at the end of a school day … when the girl returned to his classroom to retrieve her cell phone from Strand, who’d taken it earlier in the day. The next day, Strand met the girl and again kissed her, according to the report. At a third meeting, suggested by the girl, more kissing took place, it said.
The affidavit, according to the report, said Strand, eight days later, took the girls to his house in the Flanders section of town and “made out” with her on his deck. He also touched her buttocks and breasts outside her clothing before taking her home, police alleged in the affidavit.
Strand was a member of Roxbury Fire Station #1 and a former scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 163 in Succasunna. After being charged, Stand retired from his teaching position.
Before he did, Hopatcong Schools Superintendent Cynthia Randina issued a statement calling the incident a “very unfortunate situation” that the district was taking seriously.
“The safety and security of our students is at the forefront of our minds every single day,” wrote Randina. “The district had no knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing, and district officials have been cooperating with law enforcement throughout the investigation now underway. The district will take appropriate action after the police department has completed its investigation."
A press release from 2014 about the Special Olympics, said Strand volunteered for the past 10 years for the event at Mountain Creek resort. It said Strand had been a Hopatcong teacher for 16 years at the time, "In addition to his teaching duties, Mr. Strand has been the Ski/Snowboard Club Advisor for 11 years," said the release.