Thanks to Gabriele P. Ballowe, the unrepentant killer, residents of Erie County are now able to ponder the distinction between “fleeing the scene” of a fatal accident and “driving off” from one. If they are like most people, they will probably have trouble identifying the difference, but it evidently exists somewhere in Ballowe’s mind.
Or perhaps that is simply the way an undeveloped conscience deals with unspeakable conduct. Ballowe this week admitted that she struck Barry Moss with her car and then – whatever she wants to call it – fled the scene, leaving her victim to die in the cold and snow. His body was found the next morning.
The plea – which takes no account of reports that she was intoxicated at the time – was approved by Moss’ family. It offers them a way, as best as possible, to put this tragedy to rest. But there are lessons that must be learned from the case, particularly in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, which, under prior management, declined to prosecute Ballowe.
Evidence of the Evans woman’s involvement in the death quickly mounted: Small pieces of her damaged vehicle were found at the accident scene, and traces of Moss’ DNA were found on her vehicle, according to Evans Police Chief Ernest P. Masullo. A witness told police she saw Ballowe get into her vehicle alone, on the driver’s side, shortly before Moss was struck.
Hours after she struck him, Ballowe took her damaged sport utility vehicle to a collision shop in Dunkirk, far from her home in Evans. She later settled a civil suit with Moss’ family for an undisclosed amount of money and without acknowledging responsibility.
Evans police had wanted to charge her with the crime, and a grand jury went so far as to indict her. But under pressure from then-District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, the grand jury reversed itself.
There the matter lay until Sedita won election to a judgeship and his successor, Acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr., reopened the case, won a new indictment and, on Monday, secured Ballowe’s guilty plea to leaving the scene of an injury accident without reporting it. She faces up to a year in jail when she is sentenced on Dec. 20.
For his determination to seek justice for Moss, his family and every resident of Erie County, Flaherty deserves the community’s thanks. Although he was close to Sedita, he saw what needed to be done and he did it. It was the right thing to do.
This wasn’t the only winnable case that Sedita refused to prosecute. That record creates an important task for whoever wins next month’s election – Democrat John J. Flynn Jr. or Conservative Joseph V. Treanor III. Both have promised to be more focused on holding criminals accountable than Sedita sometimes was. They can be sure, especially in light of Ballowe’s grudging admission, that the public will be watching for signs of improvement.
As to Ballowe, it’s important that the law finally caught up with her, after almost three years of evasion. Barry Moss died unnecessarily at the side of a road because of her actions. His family was left to suffer the loss with little hope of justice until the past few months.
Even if striking Moss as he walked along the road was an accident – which it wouldn’t be if she was drunk at the time – her subsequent behavior was utterly despicable. By law and by human decency, Ballowe was required to stop once she struck Moss. She didn’t. Instead, she took her car miles away to have it fixed. Those are the actions of a guilty person seeking to evade responsibility for her actions.
What was missing was a functioning conscience, a component that remained conspicuously absent in court on Monday. Perhaps she can work on that in her jail cell.