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Family seeks to preserve evidence in boat crash that killed Lancaster teacher

The family of Eric Przykuta, the Lancaster Middle School teacher who died last month in a boat crash, has retained a Buffalo law firm to consider filing a wrongful death suit against "all responsible parties," according to a statement from the attorneys.

Przykuta's widow, Lori, retained the Buffalo office of Rosenthal, Kooshoian & Lennon, which began court proceedings to "discover and preserve the evidence in this case from the various police agencies and authorities that responded to the scene, including the individuals involved, the boat involved and the breakwall involved," according to the statement from the law firm.

"We are currently investigating the matter and gathering the facts. It is premature for us to identify the suspected responsible parties at this time," partner J. Patrick Lennon said in an email.

The statement also said, "The wife and family of Mr. Przykuta are fully cooperating with the Erie County District Attorney's Office's ongoing investigation into the events that night."

The firm filed two show cause orders with State Supreme Court. The first requested that four entities and one person preserve all evidence, documentation or investigative information related to the case. That order named the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Police Department, Safe Harbor Marina and Michael Cronin, a lieutenant in the Lancaster Police Department who was the owner and operator of the boat, Lennon said.

In a separate show cause order, the law firm asked the four local television stations — Spectrum News Buffalo, WGRZ-TV Channel 2, WIVB-TV Channel 4 and WKBW-TV Channel 7 — to preserve all tapes, digital recordings, memos, notes, unused footage and outtakes of their coverage of the story.

Both orders, requiring the parties involved to show cause why they should not comply with the request to preserve the material, were signed by Acting Justice Timothy J. Walker. Both will be heard in court on July 11.

Przykuta, 43, went fishing May 12 in Cronin's boat with Cronin and Lancaster Police Officer Shawn D. Zaffram. Both officers were off duty at the time.

Around 11 p.m., the 23- to 25-foot fishing craft crashed into the breakwall near the Small Boat Harbor off Fuhrmann Boulevard.

A distress call was placed at 11:08 p.m. and several agencies responded. They found Cronin and Zaffram on the jagged, slippery breakwall, wearing life jackets, reports indicated. Rescuers searched for Przykuta about 2 1/2 hours, Buffalo Fire Department Division Chief Patrick Britzzalaro said at the time.

The water was calm, Britzzalaro said then, but "it's pitch black out there and you're in total darkness. You can be on top of the breakwall and not see it."

The search was called off about 1:30 a.m. and resumed at daybreak May 13. The Przykuta family gathered at the Small Boat Harbor to await word.

"We were at the water waiting, hoping he would swim up," Przykuta's sister-in-law, Jennifer Przykuta, said in May.

"He was a strong man who came from a family of boaters," his father, Dennis Przykuta, said then. "He was 6-foot-2 and weighed 235 pounds. He loved the water. We went fishing together so many times."

Przykuta, 43, was found dead that morning in the water about 30 feet from the breakwall. Coast Guard officials reported he was not wearing a life jacket.

The search was conducted by the Buffalo Fire Department, Buffalo Police, the Sheriff's Office, the Hamburg Marine Rescue Unit and the Fort Erie Fire Department's Marine Rescue Unit.

Przykuta taught seventh-grade science in the Lancaster district for nearly 20 years, was president of the Lancaster Central Teachers Association for 10 years and coached boys modified lacrosse. He and his wife were the parents of two young children.

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