Employees of Arby's in Ontario restrain a suspect after a stabbing on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019 that hospitalized Ronnell T. Hughes. (Frank LeCalir/special to the Enterprise)

A Colorado truck driver who nearly killed a Black man in an unprovoked knife attack at an Ontario truck stop almost two years ago was sentenced Thursday to 16 years in prison.

Nolan L. Strauss, 27, of Colorado Springs, spoke briefly in a federal courtroom in Eugene, saying he was sorry for an attack that shocked Malheur County. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to committing a federal hate crime.

His target was a man had had never seen before and didn’t know – Ronnell T. Hughes. The victim was sitting in a booth at Arby’s inside the Pilot Travel Center on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, when Strauss came up from behind and sliced him across the neck, hitting his jugular vein and leaving a wound that required 50 stitches.

“For someone to just sneak up on me and try to take my life from me, I’m angry,” Hughes said at the sentencing. He said he was seeing Strauss’s face for the first time in the courtroom.

Strauss told witnesses at the time and a police detective later that he went after Hughes because he was Black.

In court Thursday, his attorney said Strauss was having a “manic episode” related to a history of mental illness.

Strauss said he should have been taking medications.

“I wouldn’t do that in my right state of mind,” Strauss said. “I’m happy that he survived.”

According to his later statement to police and court filings, Strauss came up behind Hughes as he was awaiting a supervisor to start work at Arby’s. Hughes was stabbed twice before Strauss was ultimately subdued by employees.

Asked why he attacked, Strauss told one employee, “Because he was Black, and I don’t like Black people.”

U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane said the attack was “a remarkable act of violence” and that he feared Strauss would one day kill someone if he again was free and off his medications.

“He still poses a grave risk in the community,” McShane said.

Strauss was charged in U.S. District Court after Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe charged the truck driver with state crimes. The state charges were dropped for the federal prosecution.

“The sentence should also send a clear message to anyone contemplating similar acts of violence: hatred and bigotry will not be tolerated,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug.

“All Oregonians should be able to live and work without fear that their skin color will mark them for violence,” said Kieran Ramsey, special agent in charge of the FBI Oregon Field Office. “Beyond the physical and emotional damage done to a victim, such violence can infect an entire community with divisiveness and despair. This is not the kind of place that any of us want to raise our families, and we stand with the entire community in saying this is not acceptable and we will not allow it.”

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