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Trooper struck, killed on highway; Accident investigators try to determine cause

State police accident experts hoped to return to the Youngmann Highway shortly after sunrise today to see whether a blinding morning sun could have been a factor in the accident that killed a 14-year veteran of the State Police on Saturday.

Trooper Kevin P. Dobson was giving out a speeding ticket on the Youngmann Highway when he was struck and killed by a passing motorist in a pickup truck.

Dobson died in Kenmore Mercy Hospital at 8:10 a.m., almost 45 minutes after the accident that was reported at 7:27 a.m., authorities said.

Investigators plan to look at any possible cause, including cell phone use, driver distraction, mechanical problems -- and especially the early-morning sun. The sun rose Saturday at 7:09 a.m.

"All those factors will be considered," Deputy State Police Superintendent Thomas L. Fazio said Saturday afternoon. "They're interviewing the driver now."

Dobson, 43, working out of the Clarence barracks, was conducting a vehicle and traffic stop on the eastbound Youngmann, just east of Colvin Boulevard. State police said they believe Dobson had just given a ticket to a motorist, for going 72 mph in a 55 mph zone, when he was struck by the pickup truck that had just entered the eastbound Youngmann from Colvin Boulevard.

The pickup driver, identified only as a 71-year-old man, stopped after his vehicle struck Dobson and immediately returned to the scene.

"I can tell you he's been cooperative," Fazio told an afternoon news conference in Clarence Town Hall. "He came back to the scene. I'm sure he's not feeling well about the situation. It's an unfortunate accident."

State police are painstakingly investigating every facet of the fatality, and they're asking anyone who may have witnessed the incident to call them at 759-6831.

Investigators, however, don't believe alcohol or drug use was involved.

"There is no arrest," Fazio said. "Everything is under investigation at this point. No determination will be made [on possible charges] until all the facts are available."

Once the investigation is completed, state police plan to discuss any possible charges with Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III.

State police colleagues and friends of Dobson's had to control their emotions as they talked about the trooper, a native of Buffalo's Lovejoy area.

"Kevin had a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his face," Capt. Steven A. Nigrelli said. "He had an innate ability to make you laugh."

Part of it was the smile. Part of it was the stories he told. Part of it was the twinkle in his eye. And part of it was the "Dobber's" habit of giving everyone else a nickname. Usually, a nickname created by adding an "o" to a buddy's name.

As in Nigrelli's quick nickname of Steve-o.

Nigrelli cited what he called the irony of fellow troopers' grief over the loss of the fun-loving Dobson.

"Someone who brought so much cheer and laughter to us has made us cry so hard today," Nigrelli said.

Asked for specifics, Nigrelli recalled a recent state police retirement party, where a large crowd of people seemed to be congregating around one person.

"It was Kevin," Nigrelli remembered. "He was entertaining the masses. He had a way of making everybody laugh. His eyes lit up. He had this smile, and he just had a way about him that made you feel better."

State police officials also discussed what they called the tragic irony of Dobson's expected involvement in an upcoming summer traffic initiative designed to enforce the state's new "Move Over Act."

The law, which took effect Jan. 1, requires drivers to change lanes and slow down, whenever possible, when they see a police car or any emergency vehicle at the side of the road, often with a stopped vehicle.

The Ambrose-Searles "Move Over Act," is named after State Trooper Robert W. Ambrose and Onondaga County Sheriff's Deputy Glenn M. Searles. Both were killed while their patrol vehicles were stopped on the side of the road.

State police in Western New York already have issued more than 70 tickets under the new law. And on Route 400 this past week, one trooper monitored the actions of passing drivers when other vehicles were pulled over by police. That trooper issued three summonses in 15 minutes to people who didn't move over, as required, Nigrelli said.

"We now have a local face, Dobber's face, when we go to enforce this law," Nigrelli said.

State Police Maj. Christopher L. Cummings also hopes the public uses the Dobson tragedy to heed the new law. "We ask the public to think of this the next time they see a car stopped [on the side of the road]," Cummings said.

It is not clear, though, whether the pickup driver will be charged under the new law, as he was entering the highway from a single-lane entrance ramp.

During Saturday's news conference, state police were quick to praise the efforts of other police officers and members of the public who rushed to Dobson's side immediately after the accident. That included on-duty Town of Tonawanda Police Officer Mark Shoemaker, who attempted to resuscitate Dobson at the scene.

"We offer our gratitude to all those who rendered first aid to Trooper Dobson and attempted to save his life," Fazio said.

Troopers and fellow law-enforcement officers rushed to Kenmore Mercy Hospital to comfort Dobson's family. Among the survivors are his father, Richard, a retired Erie County sheriff's sergeant; the trooper's two daughters and one son; his girlfriend, Bridgett Hastings; and her son.

"It's a belief that we'll get through this together," Nigrelli said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued a statement Saturday afternoon mourning the loss of the 14-year veteran.

"Trooper Kevin Dobson put his life at risk every day to protect the people of our state, and on behalf of all New Yorkers, I send my heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues at the State Police," Cuomo stated.

The governor also ordered flags on all state office buildings to be flown at half-staff in honor of Dobson.

The accident led to a huge traffic backup on the eastbound Youngmann. Police later forced eastbound vehicles to exit at Colvin Boulevard, as they continued to investigate the fatal crash.

All eastbound lanes were reopened to traffic by Saturday afternoon.