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Probe of trooper's death focuses on sun's glare; Officials considering all possible causes

The blinding sun just after sunrise Saturday remains the key possible culprit in explaining why an elderly man's eastbound pickup struck and killed a much-loved New York State trooper, sources suggested Monday.

No final determination has been made, authorities emphasized, as investigators continue probing all possible causes of the crash that claimed the life of Trooper Kevin P. Dobson on the Youngmann Highway.

The 71-year-old pickup driver agreed to provide a blood sample, one of many pieces of evidence being combed by state police. Investigators are checking all possibilities, including alcohol or drug use, mechanical problems, speed, driver distraction and the early-morning sun.

"Given the time of day that this accident occurred, where the sun was rising and where it was in the sky, that is something they definitely will be looking into," Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said. "But I can't say at this juncture that that's the cause. It's too soon to say."

Authorities have focused their attention on the sun as perhaps the most likely cause, even returning to the scene at the same time of morning to drive the route and see how blinding the sun was.

The sun officially rose at 7:09 a.m. Saturday, about 18 minutes before the crash.

A Google Earth image of the location at the time of the accident shows the sun at the horizon and in the middle of the roadway.

The glare could have been even more blinding if the pickup driver had rounded a curve on the entrance ramp before suddenly heading straight into the sun.

That possible cause reminds Sedita of a case from October 1988 that claimed the life of his close friend and co-worker in the District Attorney's Justice Court Bureau, Timothy Burvid.

Burvid was heading to night court in Lancaster at about 5:45 p.m. when his vehicle was struck by a westbound car that crossed the double center line on Walden Avenue. The other driver apparently was blinded by the setting sun.

"That kind of case hits home for me, because I lost a good friend and colleague," Sedita said. "I'm not ready to say that's the cause here until the investigation is completed."

State Police spokeswoman Rebecca Gibbons declined to comment on the sun, except to say that the investigation is continuing.

Investigators are using the most sophisticated equipment to pinpoint the cause of the fatal crash.

That includes the use of something called "laser total stations," allowing accident-reconstruction experts to take measurements with millimeter accuracy as they reconstruct what happened.

State police have said that the pickup entered the eastbound Youngmann from the Colvin Boulevard entrance ramp before striking Dobson as he was handing out a speeding ticket to another driver on the shoulder of the highway.

Top State Police brass have cited the irony of Dobson's intended participation this summer in stepped-up enforcement of the state's new Move Over Law.

That law, which took effect Jan. 1, requires that drivers use "due care" to change lanes and/or slow down when they see an emergency vehicle with flashing lights on the side of the road.

However, it's not clear whether that law was violated, especially if the driver had just entered the road and if the sun was hindering his vision.

Sedita has assigned Kelley A. Omel, chief of his Vehicular Crimes Bureau, to the case, and she has been conferring with investigators since Saturday.

Calling hours will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, in Amigone Funeral Home, 5200 Sheridan Drive, Amherst.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday in Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church, 8445 Greiner Road, Clarence.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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