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Family of man who died in snowbound car deserves to know what happened

Donald Abate’s family deserves answers about the circumstances surrounding his tragic death during the November 2014 snowstorm and the reasons why it took so long – unfortunately, too long – to get him any help.

Abate, 46, was found dead in his car during that storm. He had gotten stuck in the snow on his drive home to Blasdell from work at the federal detention facility in Batavia.

The question is whether he would still be alive, as the family contends, if a better effort had been made to reach him. He called for help. More than once. Being an officer of the law, he followed instructions to stay put and wait for help.

His wife’s lawsuit indicates he knew that the road had become treacherous and planned to pull off at the Tops in Alden, but did not make it quite that far.

Recently released records make for difficult reading. He appeared to have managed to get to a parking lot near a car wash on Broadway near Two Rod Road, which was two miles east of the supermarket.

Confusion about Abate’s location and condition mark hours of entries in 911 logs. How can it be a man died while waiting on help he was assured was on the way? Heartbreakingly, AAA told the family that law enforcement turned its tow trucks back when they were sent to assist. But even if the car had to remain stuck, why didn’t police organize an attempt to free Abate from his snowy prison?

Nearly 20 hours after his first call for help, Abate was found. By then, too late. He had stayed in his vehicle, as instructed. His family contends that 911 operators who told him to remain in his vehicle and responders “should have known that failing to act could cause him injury or death.”

Certainly, it was a monumental storm, and dangerous for first responders to be out. But if no effort to find him was possible, Abate should have been told that.

State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski ordered the State Police to give the family’s attorneys “all communications between State Police and Erie County 911 operators and other county personnel that involved Abate and his situation,” as reported in The News. The judge also ordered that State Police hand over blotter reports produced by troopers who were on road or search duty in the Alden area.

The judge had already required Erie County and the Sheriff’s Office, named in the suit, to produce records, 911 calls and transcripts from their handling of Abate’s calls for help. Those calls appeared to have gone unheeded. Or, at the very least, mishandled.

In the final State Police report, the section for incident type has the box for “unattended death” checked. The type was crossed out and “accident-fatal” is written in.

That’s not good enough. His family, and members of the public who might some day find themselves in a similar predicament, need to know what happened.