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Silence heavy on conscience of Caraballo

It is coming down now on Fred Caraballo's head, and he doesn't like it.

Fairly or not, the finger of fate points at Caraballo. People think -- although he never directly harmed a woman -- that he may bear some responsibility.

A lie that police said Caraballo told 26 years ago might have left Al Sanchez, the alleged Bike Path Killer, free to exact a deadly toll on local women.

Police say DNA evidence links Sanchez, a seemingly harmless family man, to at least five sexual assaults and three homicides over the last 20 years.

It might have started as early as 1981. A Buffalo State student was raped in Delaware Park. Soon after, she noticed her attacker at Boulevard Mall. She followed him into the parking lot and got the license number of the car in which he drove off.

The car was owned by Caraballo. He is Sanchez's uncle.

When police working the rape case contacted Caraballo in 1981, he said the car was uninsured and had not been driven in a month.

Caraballo was recently reinterviewed by police going over old leads in the bike path case. This time, Caraballo -- who moved six years ago to North Carolina -- told a different story. He admitted he lent the car to Sanchez on that day in 1981. The information was the straw that broke the case of the murderous Bike Path Rapist.

"It led us to Sanchez as a suspect," District Attorney Frank Clark said.

If Caraballo had told the truth 26 years ago, the link between Sanchez and sexual assault might have been made long before Linda Yalem was killed; long before Majane Mazur's body was dumped on a Buffalo railroad track; long before Joan Diver was found dead near a Newstead bike path.

If only Caraballo had told the truth 26 years ago.

Better late than never, I suppose. But it is too late for at least 10 women.

Authorities believe that Caraballo lied in 1981 to protect his nephew.

"The information," Clark said, "was purposely withheld."

The information was withheld not just back then. It has been withheld for 26 years since then. Even as the notorious Bike Path Rapist struck time and time again, Caraballo kept silent. Even as police drew sketches of the suspect and said he was likely of Hispanic descent, Caraballo kept silent. Even as police pleaded for folks with suspicions to come forward, Caraballo kept silent.

Silence, in this case, was not golden.

In an interview Monday with Buffalo News reporter Lou Michel, Caraballo contended, "I don't remember" what he told detectives in 1981.

"Maybe I did [mention his nephew]; maybe I didn't," Caraballo said.

Caraballo said he later asked his nephew if he did something wrong. Caraballo didn't fully believe his denials, but he didn't do anything about it. He said he never mentally connected his nephew to the Bike Path Rapist, since none of those attacks was in Delaware Park.

I called Caraballo on Tuesday, after his story was on the front page of The News, to ask why he didn't speak sooner. He was not in a talkative mood. "I don't have a bad conscience," he said, sounding agitated. "That's not true."

Then he hung up.

Police asked the public for years to come forward with any suspicions about the Bike Path Rapist. They asked because they wanted to catch a monster.

But there is another reason why anyone with suspicions should have spoken. If you don't, you lose. The burden of conscience falls on your head.

With three women murdered and at least five others sexually attacked, that burden is a heavy load.

It is a load that Fred Caraballo will carry for the rest of his life. I can't say I feel much sympathy for him.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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