The Buffalo police officer who struck and killed a North Buffalo woman out for her early morning walk on Friday did not have his patrol car's flashing lights or siren activated, according to three police sources.
The officer, identified by the three police sources as Daniel G. Ahearn, was not required to turn on the lights and siren because he was responding to a "routine" level 911 call, they said. The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Ahearn was traveling at between 30 and 40 mph, providing backup for another police officer going to a complaint about "an irrational person" on Starin Avenue.
The police sources suggested several possible reasons for why Ahearn, heading east on Hertel Avenue just before 6:30 a.m., did not see 64-year-old Susan LoTempio as she attempted to cross from the south side of Hertel to the north side, a short distance from the intersection of Delaware Avenue:
- It was still dark out and misty weather conditions may have further diminished visibility.
- LoTempio was dressed in dark clothing, a gray jacket and navy blue pants.
- Ahearn's view from inside his 2017 Dodge Charger patrol car may have been partially obstructed by the location of the vehicle's mobile computer terminal. The screen is attached to a vertical bar on the center console, near the dashboard.
In the Charger, officers sit lower and the sight line is not as high as in Chevy Tahoe SUVs, the other patrol vehicle used by Buffalo police. That circumstance creates more of a visual challenge for officers driving, according to two police officers.
The two officers, who requested their names be withheld because they are not authorized to speak to the media, told The Buffalo News the smaller interior compartment of the Charger results in the computer screen blocking more of the view through the windshield.
Buffalo police officials on Wednesday declined to comment about the fatal accident because the investigation is out of their hands.
The State Attorney General's Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit is handling the probe. In 2015, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order appointing the Attorney General's Office as a special prosecutor in cases involving civilian deaths and law enforcement.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said the AG's investigation is ongoing and will be "independent, comprehensive, and fair."
Attorney Thomas H. Burton said he is representing Ahearn.
"In an abundance of caution, the PBA retained me to protect the officer's interests," Burton said. "We are awaiting the various tests and investigation results."
The three police sources said Ahearn voluntarily turned over his cellphone and allowed blood to be drawn from him immediately following the accident. The phone showed that he was not making a call or texting at the time of the accident, the sources said. Toxicology results from the blood test, which would determine if alcohol or drugs were involved, are pending.
At the request of Buffalo police officials, the New York State Police are conducting a separate investigation into the collision.
"We have been told that the results of that investigation could take up to a month," said Buffalo Police Capt. Jeff Rinaldo said, who said Ahearn is fully cooperating with investigators.
Ahearn, 36, an officer for six years assigned to the Northwest District, had not been involved in any police-related accidents prior to Friday, the three police sources said.
In 2016, The Buffalo News published a story telling how he and another officer provided lifesaving first aid to a man who had nearly severed his right arm below the elbow after crashing through a glass door. Ahearn assisted in applying a tourniquet to the man's arm, before he was taken to the hospital.
Ahearn is currently on his days off and it is not known if he will return to work or take additional time off, the police sources said.