Waiting for decency in hit-and-run - The Buffalo News

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Waiting for decency in hit-and-run

Six weeks later, Maria Wrafter still waits for a sign. A ray of light, a break in the clouds. Evidence of righteousness, a finger tipping the scale of humanity toward decency.

She never imagined it would come to this for her, for her brother, for their families. No one ever believes that a loved one will end up dead, on the side of a road, in the middle of the night. That only happens to other people, to some other family. Not to a nice-guy handyman from Evans, friendly even with his ex-wife, with three 20-something daughters.

But there it is. Barry “Bob” Moss, riding his bike home after visiting a nearby friend a few nights before Christmas, was run over and killed by someone driving a Ford SUV who – shades of Dr. James Corasanti – did not stop. Did not call for help. Did not, apparently, do anything to save Bob Moss – who was found dead on the side of Route 5 at daybreak, next to his mangled bike.

The reported owner of the SUV is Gabriele “Gabe” Ballowe, who runs the popular beachfront bar/restaurant South Shore Beach Club. Her damaged SUV was found days later 20 miles away, at a collision shop that Wrafter said is run by a friend of Ballowe. Authorities call Ballowe – who has hired a lawyer and is not commenting – a “person of interest” in the investigation. Six weeks later, there is no arrest. Wrafter dismisses chatter that the investigation is slow-tracked because Ballowe is chummy with local cops. I’m not buying it, either.

Cases like this are notoriously tough for police. Choosing to step on the gas, instead of on the brake, after running someone down is morally reprehensible. But for anyone more concerned with not getting caught than with helping the victim, running away is – sadly – often the way to go. That’s the problem with this case. Unless the driver admits guilt, or confessed to someone who speaks up, or there is a witness who saw the suspect behind the wheel, it’s tough to arrest – much less to convict – anyone of the crime. By state law, said District Attorney Frank Sedita III, hauling a suspect before a grand jury – in a bizarre Catch-22 – guarantees that justice will not be done.

“We could compel a suspect to testify,” Sedita said, “but that person then could not be prosecuted for the crime.”

Which leaves investigators to track timelines, sift cellphone records and knock on doors. Evans police are searching for someone who saw the driver of that SUV leave a bar or a restaurant, a casino or a holiday party just after midnight Dec. 22.

This is where the scale tips for Maria Wrafter. Bob Moss’ sister believes that most people are inherently good. She believes that most people, if they knew something, would not keep silent out of misplaced loyalty. Not when it would help a criminal, sabotage justice and seal a man’s family in an emotional limbo.

“I can’t let it be part of our family history that one of us was mowed down like a rodent, and nothing came of it,” Wrafter told me. “If the system doesn’t take care of people, it doesn’t give our kids much to believe in.”

Wrafter is vice president of a Buffalo building materials company and mother of two teenagers. Trim and tidy, she exudes decency and self-control – underpinnings that brace her in this storm. During an hourlong conversation, her voice never rises.

It is barely two weeks since Ballowe’s name became public. Wrafter waits for the dime to drop, for the silence to break, for someone who knows what happened – and there likely is someone, besides the driver – to call the 549-3600 hotline.

“It is not too late for someone to do the right thing,” Wrafter said. “Our family needs to heal. I can’t think straight or focus, I keep wondering what more can I do to find justice for my brother.”

She is haunted by the thought of her brother, badly hurt or dead, lying for hours by the side of road. A driver saw the mangled bike at daybreak Dec. 22, then the body.

“Who knows what my brother’s outcome would have been” if the hit-and-run driver had stopped, she said. “Even if he was dead, he deserved more respect than to be left on the side of the road.”

About 100 people Saturday night braved a cold rain for a candlelight vigil. The town park, Wrafter said, is across the street from Ballowe’s apartment at the South Shore Beach Club. Wrafter took comfort in what a minister told her, that Moss’ belief in God meant he was not alone that night, on the side of the road.

In that sense, the only one alone that night was behind the wheel of the SUV. And whoever, by his or her silence, is riding along.

email: desmonde@buffnews.com

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