T'way fatality being probed



Authorities are investigating what caused a tractor trailer to strike a state trooper's parked patrol car on the Thruway in Amsterdam Monday night, killing the police officer.

Trooper David W. Cunniff, 35, of Duanesburg, died Tuesday afternoon at Albany Medical Center as a result of the crash.

Cunniff suffered severe head injuries in the accident. He was partially ejected from his parked car when a tractor trailer rear-ended it during a traffic stop on the Thruway near Exit 27 around 8 p.m., state police Superinten-dent Joseph D'Amico said at a press conference Tuesday.

"We're going to do a very detailed accident investigation to recreate it," D'Amico said. "How far he was traveling, and how fast, will come out with the investigation."

D'Amico was referring to Gary Blakely, 65, of Ridgeway, Ontario. Blakely was driving the eastbound tractor trailer that rear-ended Cunniff's patrol car, which was parked near the off-ramp at Exit 27 in Amsterdam.

"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 in his patrol car at the time, with emergency lights flashing. He had previously stopped Eric Heller, 57, of Stony Creek, for allegedly speeding, and was parked behind Heller's vehicle.

After rear-ending the patrol car, the tractor trailer pushed it nearly 50 yards into an embankment before crashing into Heller's vehicle, D'Amico said.

Firefighters from Amsterdam and Hagaman used the Jaws of Life to get Heller out of his car. He suffered minor injuries and was also transported to Albany Medical Center, where he was listed in fair condition Tuesday night.

Authorities are determining what caused Blakely to veer into the parked vehicles, though they've already ruled out drugs and alcohol. Police also say the incident was not weather-related.

D'Amico said it's too early to speculate if Blakely was dozing at the wheel, adding Blakely has been cited for previous log book violations, the most recent being Dec. 13.

"As a tractor trailer driver or motor carrier, you are mandated to keep a log as far as how many hours you drive, what you're hauling, and stuff like that," D'Amico said. "He doesn't have the exact details for what he was cited for in Canada on Dec. 13."

No charges have been filed against Blakely, but Montgomery County District Attorney James E. "Jed" Conboy is expected to work with troopers to determine if that will change.

That will likely include a review of whether the state's Move Over Law was violated.

Drivers must use due care and reduce speed when approaching an emergency vehicle that displays red and/or white emergency lighting, the law says.

The law says on controlled access highways with multiple lanes, when approaching an emergency vehicle that displays red and/or white emergency lighting, drivers must move from the lane immediately adjacent to the emergency vehicle, unless traffic or other hazards exist to prevent doing so safely.

Cunniff was a nine-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. Service arrangements for Cunniff have been set for this Thursday and Friday at the Grace Fellowship Church in Watervliet.