Mayor Byron W. Brown on Friday said he gave his son the benefit of the doubt, until a detective led the youth to admit what an entire city seemed to suspect: The 16-year-old, not a random thief, took the family auto and crashed it into three parked cars in the neighborhood.
The mayor told reporters that he didn't learn the truth from his son until Thursday afternoon, after the youth confessed to the detective and six weeks after the crashes.
Had the mayor been covering for his son for the past month-and-a-half, he and his wife could have risked fraud charges.
Michelle Austin-Brown had told police that the Chevrolet Equinox must have been stolen -- even though police said the driver had a key to the vehicle that was headed back to the mayor's home when the crashes occurred.
"We believed one way or the other the truth would come out. And yesterday, the truth came out," Byron Brown told reporters at a news conference. "And to our deep disappointment as a family, the truth of this is that our son took the vehicle."
The mayor said that after his son spoke with the detective Thursday, he told his parents he had driven off about 5 a.m. Feb. 24 to meet a friend, with whom he discussed his high school basketball team's loss the previous evening.
The youth has no driver's license, only a learner's permit. Returning home about 7 a.m., he turned onto the family's street and crashed into two cars parked end to end. He hit a pickup truck with such force that the truck swiveled 90 degrees.
Young Brown then proceeded down Blaine Avenue, intending to park in front of the family home on Blaine near Jefferson Avenue, but he couldn't find a space.
Spewing car parts, the Equinox went around the block and was abandoned after denting another parked car in front of 121 Loring Ave., in view of some Canisius College security cameras that showed a dark-skinned -- but unrecognizable -- teenager get out and walk toward the mayor's home.
"He claimed that he was tired," Brown explained. "He was coming home and thinks he hit a patch of ice and the vehicle skidded and I guess, as an inexperienced driver, he was not able to control it. After that, I guess he was panicked. He was rattled."
His parents have restated their love and support for the boy, the mayor said. But he will be grounded indefinitely, forced to pay for some part of the damages and probably will perform community service.
Then there's the court case. Byron W. Brown III has been ticketed with driving without a license and leaving the scene of an accident and must appear April 16 in City Court.
Just a week ago, the mayor adamantly told The Buffalo News there was a "zero percent chance" that anyone from his family was driving the Equinox on Feb. 24. His son was asleep at the time, and even if he had sneaked out that morning "he couldn't have slipped back in without us knowing," Brown said, since he and his wife were up about 6 a.m.
It remains a mystery how the boy got back in without alerting his parents. Other questions linger:
Why did it take weeks for police to question the boy?
How would he have explained the obvious damage to the SUV had he parked in front of the house?
And why did his parents believe his denials for so long, when, as the mayor revealed during his news conference, his son had sneaked away with the car once before and been caught?
"How did he get back in the house and put the key back?" asked Janelle Tryjankowski, a Canisius College student. The Equinox damaged her pickup truck, but she should now be able to collect from the mayor's insurer, Allstate.
"I think he knew all along," Tryjankowski said of the mayor and the fact he now knows his son was responsible. "Or at least he had some idea. He had to have known something. I wish he had been more honest about that."
Brown said he was troubled when the surveillance cameras never offered any evidence to clear his son. He later learned his son had thought several times about confessing to his parents but never did.
"Because of the fact that his mom had reported the vehicle stolen, and because of the fact that other vehicles were damaged, we told him that this was a very serious matter, and if he was involved, we needed to know it," the mayor said.
"His mother was the one that spoke to him first. And when he told his mother 'no,' I think that started the spiral, the cycle, of him feeling that he could not be comfortably truthful after that," the mayor said.
"Perhaps if I had spoken to him first, I would have been able to get it out of him. But being confronted and looking in his mother's eyes, he said the wrong thing and then it made it very difficult for him to say the right thing."
This week, the images from a second Canisius College videotape emerged, and the mayor said he viewed them Wednesday, finding again that the driver could not be recognized.
Tryjankowski also viewed the tapes Wednesday and agreed they do not reveal the driver's face.
By Thursday, Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson said he had not looked at the second set of images, which he has not made public. But his officers were working the case from another angle. They had decided it was time to interview the son.
The questions that made this a bizarre stolen car case can be put to rest: Why a "thief" would drive his prize back down the very street he stole it from; how he took it without breaking into the car or breaking the steering column to override the ignition; and why he would abandon it just blocks from the owner's house and then walk back in the direction of the wrecked autos.
The answer is, the driver was no thief. As the mayor said, it was his son.
"I did believe him, I wanted to believe him, his mother wanted to believe him when he said he didn't do it," Brown said. "He's extremely remorseful."