A state trooper died Tuesday of injuries he suffered when his cruiser was hit by a tractor-trailer during a traffic stop on the New York State Thruway the night before.
Trooper David W. Cunniff, 35, of Duanesburg, was airlifted to Albany Medical Center with massive head trauma following the 8 p.m. crash along the eastbound shoulder of the highway.
Cunniff had pulled over Eric Heller, 57, of Stony Creek, near Exit 27 in Amsterdam. Both he and Heller were in their vehicles when Gary Blakley, 65, of Ontario, drove his tractor-trailer into both of them. police said.
From the archives
In August 2011, the Gazette wrote about Trooper David W. Cunniff and his wife Amy's work to help their son cope with a debilitating disease. Family fights disease affecting young son.
Police said Heller was trapped inside his vehicle but “conscious and responsive.” He was extricated by the Amsterdam Fire Department and taken to Albany Medical Center. He was listed in fair condition at the hospital Tuesday.
State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico said Tuesday neither alcohol nor weather were considered factors in the crash. He declined to speculate on a cause and said a full investigation is underway.
Cunniff’s car was idling and his emergency lights flashing at the time of the crash.
Blakley, who was driving a tractor-trailer loaded with Styrofoam, swerved from the left lane, crossing the right lane and plowing into the two cars along the right shoulder of the road near the exit off-ramp, striking Cunniff’s and Heller’s vehicles, police said.
The impact of the crash sent Cunniff’s cruiser off the right shoulder and threw him partially out of it, according to state police.
Cunniff, a trooper with nine years of experience, was married with two children. He was assigned to Troop T, which patrols the Thruway, in 2009. He had previously served with Troop B and Troop G, D’Amico said.
Blakley had a valid driver’s license, and D’Amico said a search revealed only logbook infractions on his record.
According to D’Amico, Cunniff pulled Heller over for speeding.
Cunniff is the 125th New York state trooper to die in the line of duty and the second in the past two months, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. Trooper Ross M. Riley, 44, of Olean, a 17-year veteran, died Nov. 20 after falling about 30 feet during a high-angle rescue training exercise in Letchworth State Park, southwest of Rochester.
New York State Troopers PBA President Thomas H. Mungeer, in a release issued Tuesday, called Cunniff a “dedicated public servant who made the ultimate sacrifice, and more importantly, a loving father and family member and a devoted friend.”
“Troopers share a unique bond and as such, form a tight-knit family across New York state as well as the entire country. Any time a trooper is injured or killed, all troopers, both active and retired, feel sorrow and empathy,” he said in the release. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Trooper Cunniff’s family, friends and fellow troopers. We would also like to thank the physicians, nurses and the entire staff at Albany Medical Center Hospital for their assistance and support during this most difficult time.”
Cunniff and his wife of 14 years, Amy, were the focus of a 2011 fundraiser held by the state police PBA in an effort to help the family cover the cost of retrofitting their home to accommodate their son Caleb, 6, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, an incurable genetic disease that causes the loss of muscle function. The Shriners Hospitals for Children donated a wheelchair in 2011, giving Caleb the opportunity to move around.
The PBA will be helping to arrange a “line-of-duty death” funeral and assisting Cunniff’s family, Mungeer said.