I don’t know if Gabriele “Gabe” Ballowe will ever see the inside of a jail cell. I don’t know if Barry Moss’ family will ever feel vindicated. But the odds of each last week swelled considerably – which is just swell.
Moss, a handyman with three kids, was run down and left to die on an Evans roadside on a winter night two years ago. Police soon homed in on bar/restaurant owner Ballowe, who was – witnesses say – blotto when she left a Hamburg bar minutes before Moss was hit. Pieces of her SUV were found near his body on Route 5. Within hours, she took the vehicle to a distant collision shop. Police said Ballowe told a friend she “hit something.”
These cases are notoriously tough to prove in court – particularly without an eyewitness or a driver whose conscience kicks in after the booze wears off. Unfortunately for Moss’ grieving family, as well as for justice, neither an eyewitness nor a conscience subsequently surfaced.
Even so, local cops believed there was a case to be made. Yet Ballowe, now 50, was never charged.
That might finally change.
The case recently got what it desperately needed, aside from a confession: A new district attorney.
Acting Erie County DA Mike Flaherty confirmed last week he’ll take another look.
It would right a wrong and untwist a bizarre misstep by Flaherty’s predecessor, Frank Sedita III. Recently elected to a state judgeship, Sedita put the case before a grand jury, which voted not to charge Ballowe. But wait. The News subsequently reported that the grand jury initially wanted to indict Ballowe on two felony charges – then was persuaded to re-vote after being told by a Sedita aide (presumably at his direction) there wasn’t enough evidence to convict.
Maybe Sedita was gun-shy after Dr. James Corasanti escaped felony conviction after killing Alix Rice in a 2011 hit-and-run crash. Maybe he didn’t think what happened behind closed grand jury doors would ever get out. Whatever the case, it wasn’t his finest moment.
The DA-driven re-vote understandably angered cops and stunned Moss’ family, who felt wronged by the system they counted on for help. Maria Wrafter is Moss’ sister – a buttoned-down, by-the-rules VP of a building materials company.
“We were told that the grand jury didn’t want to indict, when in fact they did,” Wrafter told me by phone from her hospital bed, after minor surgery. “It’s bad enough when the bad guys hurt you. When the good guys hurt you, it feels like betrayal.”
Flaherty told me it would be “inappropriate” to comment on a pending investigation and doesn’t question his predecessor’s decisions. In general, though, he noted “there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing. With any case, we’ll go where the evidence leads.”
I don’t know if Flaherty, who makes a primary run in September, is doing this to politically separate himself from ex-boss Sedita, or if he truly feels justice was undone. Whatever the motivation, his willingness to probe a festering prosecutorial wound is worthy. If there is new evidence, or – as ex-prosecutor Bob Convissar told me – even a “new interpretation” of what’s already known, Flaherty can ask a judge for a do-over.
Wrafter, who spent the holidays with Moss’ ex-wife and three daughters, said the family is pleased but wary.
“We had our hearts broken three times,” said Wrafter, mother of two teenagers. “Losing a loved one suddenly, there’s nothing worse. When (Ballowe) wasn’t indicted, that was pretty bad. When we learned we were lied to, it was close to equally painful. I admire Mr. Flaherty for wanting to take a look.”
Since the first go-round, there has been a civil settlement – reached, not coincidentally, the day before Ballowe was to make a sworn statement. A judge in a separate DMV hearing found “abundant evidence” that Ballowe drove the death vehicle.
Prosecuting Ballowe would be easier if the Assembly tightened “leaving the scene” laws, to obligate drivers to stop after knowingly hitting something.
There’s still an $11,000 reward for pertinent information (549-3600).
For Wrafter, it’s about righting a host of wrongs. A driver who didn’t stop, as Barry Moss lay dying on the roadside. A district attorney who distorted the voice of a grand jury.
“I raised my kids to respect authority,” Wrafter said. “But with this case, it’s like, hey, you’re better off if you run and hide. It’s just not right.”
Flaherty says he wants to right any wrongs, to follow where the evidence leads, in this case or any other. I hope he really means it.