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Niagara County is sued by widow of man killed in crash with sheriff’s deputy

LOCKPORT – The widow of a Newfane man killed when his sport utility vehicle was T-boned by a speeding patrol car filed a lawsuit against Niagara County this week, and there’s no suspense about who will win.

“Look at the facts. There’s not much doubt as to what happened,” County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said. “I don’t think you’re going to come out of that case without paying any damages.”

Glenn T. Annalora, 61, of Ridge Road, suffered fatal injuries at 7:07 p.m. last Oct. 22 when his SUV was struck by a sheriff’s patrol car driven by Deputy James H. Bissell III. Annalora was eastbound on Ridge Road, and Bissell was southbound on North Ridge Road. Reports at the time said Bissell was speeding and ran a stop sign at North Ridge and Ridge roads.

The suit was filed on behalf of Mary A. Annalora, 58, who was riding with her husband that night and was seriously injured, by the Connors LLP law firm of Buffalo, headed by Terrence M. Connors. His associate Lawlor F. Quinlan III said Thursday that Bissell isn’t a party to the lawsuit because “the county is responsible for his actions, since he was acting within the scope of his employment.”

Quinlan said that state law no longer allows plaintiffs to place monetary demands in their initial complaints and that Mary Annalora has no specific damage figure in mind.

“We’re going to see how she recovers from her injuries,” Quinlan said. Most lawsuits in auto accidents simply assert that the plaintiff was seriously injured and leave the details for later, but the Annalora suit includes a full page of medical descriptions of her injuries, ranging from fractured ribs and vertebrae to sleeplessness.

“She lost her husband. She was severely injured herself. She has a 10-acre farm she’s not going to be able to work,” Quinlan said. Annalora has three grown children, all of whom live outside Western New York.

Quinlan said state vehicle and traffic law allows drivers of emergency vehicles to disobey traffic laws – but not all the time. “They can’t act with recklessness, and they have to be responding to a real call,” he said. Although the county has not yet turned over its investigation of the wreck, Quinlan said the Connors law firm’s investigation showed that Bissell was not en route to any call. Nearby residents said at the time that they heard no sirens and saw no flashing lights on the patrol car.

The county District Attorney’s Office charged Bissell with reckless driving, a misdemeanor, as well as imprudent speed, failure to yield the right of way and passing a stop sign. Bissell, who resigned from the Sheriff’s Office in December, has pleaded not guilty.

The outcome of the criminal case in Cambria Town Court, where Bissell’s next appearance is set for June 7, could have an impact on the lawsuit.

Quinlan said that if Bissell pleads guilty or is convicted of reckless driving, that would save the plaintiff the trouble of having to prove that he was reckless. That could be an important point in a suit that accuses the former deputy of recklessness, negligence and causing a wrongful death.

Joerg said he has asked his first assistant, Susan B. Bjornholm, and the Buffalo law firm Gibson, McAskill & Crosby “to see what the appropriate amount of damages are on the file. That’s what they’re working on.”

He added, “Terry Connors puts his information together and we put our information together and we try to come up with what’s a reasonable result regarding that particular case.”

The county would have to pay any damage amount directly; it is self-insured for liability.

“This is a public case,” Quinlan said. “It’s significant to the public what happens here.”