Fatal Thruway accident probed

AMSTERDAM – State police today were investigating why a tractor-trailer rear-ended a state trooper’s patrol vehicle, which had pulled over a car for speeding on the Thruway on Monday.

The accident claimed the life of the trooper, David W. Cunniff, 35, of Duanesburg.

The state police Collision Reconstruction Unit was working on the investigation today, said state police spokesman Jason Jones.

Montgomery County District Attorney James E. Conboy will decide on the charges once the investigation has been completed, Jones said.

The timing of those possible charges is unclear, Jones said this morning.

“Every case is different with this, but I don’t expect this one to take very long,” Jones said. “The facts are pretty evident and the investigation is still ongoing. As of right now, no charges have been filed; however, that can change.”

State police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said neither alcohol nor weather was considered a factor in the crash.

Jones said charges against the trucker could involve the log book he is required to update regularly.

“That is definitely going to be a part of any violations he receives,” Jones said. “His log book was in violation. The log book which tracks his mileage and driving time was out of date.”

In January 2012, Jones said, the “move over” law was put into effect to protect law-enforcement officers, emergency workers, tow and service-vehicle operators and other maintenance workers stopped along roadways while carrying out their duties.

“It was implemented to protect state police and emergency personnel from just this sort of thing, but I don’t know if it’s going to play a factor as far as charges [are concerned],” Jones said. “Obviously, he didn’t move over, but we don’t know if there were other contributing factors as to why he went off the road the way he did.”

Conboy was unavailable for comment this morning.

Cunniff was inside his patrol car behind the car he had pulled over on the Thruway’s eastbound lanes around 8:20 p.m. Monday, when his cruiser was hit by the big rig and he was partially thrown from his vehicle, D’Amico said. The truck also hit the car, injuring the driver.

The trooper suffered massive head trauma and was airlifted to Albany Medical Center Hospital, where he died Tuesday afternoon, the superintendent said.

He said the trooper’s vehicle and the car Cunniff stopped were near Exit 27 in Amsterdam. He said the tractor-trailer was traveling east in the right lane and drove off the road for some unknown reason near where the trooper’s car was idling with its emergency lights on.

The truck slammed into the back of the trooper’s car, sending it 50 yards into an embankment, then rammed the other car, moving it 75 yards and landing on top of it, D’Amico said.

Police said the driver of the car, 57-year-old Eric Heller of Stone Creek in Warren County, was in fair condition at the Albany hospital. The truck driver, Gary Blakley, 65, of Ridgeway, Ontario, wasn’t injured. His truck was hauling insulation, police said.

Both eastbound lanes of the Thruway, which is I-90, were closed for nearly 10 hours after the crash, and eastbound traffic was detoured off the highway at an exit near Syracuse.

Jones said he was unaware of the truck’s intended destination.

Cunniff was a nine-year state police veteran. He worked in Troops B and G, and was a member of the then-Executive Services Detail at the State Capitol. He was assigned to Troop T in February 2009.

The trooper is survived by his wife, Amy, and two sons, 6-year-old Caleb and 4-year-old Zachary.

Cunniff’s death is the second within the past several weeks involving an on-duty trooper. On Nov. 20, Trooper Ross Riley died after falling from a ledge in a gorge in a state park in western New York during a training exercise.

The Associated?Press contributed to this report.