Trooper dies following Thruway accident

Staff report

State Police announced Trooper David W. Cunniff died from injuries Tuesday afternoon following Monday night's Thruway crash.

Cunniff was partially ejected from his patrol car when it was rear-ended by a tractor trailer during a traffic stop on the Thruway off Exit 27 in Amsterdam around 8 p.m., state police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico said at a press conference this morning.

The tractor trailer was traveling eastbound in the right lane, and drove off the roadway for an unknown reason, striking the two vehicles at the traffic stop, police said.

Cunniff was in his patrol car at the time, with emergency lights flashing. Cunniff was in the middle of a traffic stop when a tractor trailer driven by Gary Blakley, 65, of Ridgeway, Ontario, rear-ended Cuniff's patrol car.

Cunniff had previously stopped Eric Heller, 57, of Stony Creek, for allegedly speeding, and was parked behind Heller's vehicle with his emergency lights flashing.

After rear-ending the patrol car, the tractor trailer dragged it nearly 50 yards, and led the patrol car into an embankment before crashing into Heller's vehicle.

Cunniff was airlifted to Albany Medical Center, where he died Tuesday afternoon. Heller, who was assisted at the scene by the Amsterdam Fire Department, suffered minor injuries, and is listed in fair condition at Albany Medical Center.

Blakely was not injured, police said.

The cause of the collision is still under investigation, but police did rule out drugs and alcohol, and said it was not weather-related.

D'Amico said that Montgomery County District Attorney James E. "Jed" Conboy will play a part in whether there will be any criminal charges pressed.

"It looks like the tractor trailer might have traveled from the left lane, to the exit ramp before striking the troop car," said D'Amico.

Cunniff was a 9 year veteran of the New York State Police. He worked in Troops B and G, and was a member of the former executive services detail at the state Capitol.

He was assigned to Troop T in February 2009.

Cunniff is from Williamsburg, and is survived by his wife, Amy, and two sons, 6-year-old Caleb and 4-year-old Zachary.  He was 35 years old.

Funeral arrangements will follow.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued the following statement in response to the news:

"It is with a heavy heart that we learn Trooper Cunniff has passed away as a result of serious injuries from a vehicle accident while he was on duty last night. I send my deepest condolences to Trooper Cunniff's family and friends during this painful time. Trooper Cunniff was only 35 years old and had already dedicated nine years of service to the state police. He leaves behind a wife and two young sons who I hope will remember their father as a true hero here in New York. On behalf of all New Yorkers, we are deeply grateful for his service, and his loved ones are in our thoughts and prayers."