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Time of day, weather and vehicle, not cop, blamed for Hertel pedestrian's death

Buffalo Police Officer Daniel Ahearn had a headlight out.

The computer terminal in his police cruiser was partially blocking his view through the windshield.

It was about 30 minutes before sunrise and the roads were wet.

Those were among the circumstances on that March morning that led up to Ahearn's striking and killing a pedestrian who was crossing Hertel Avenue, according to a state Attorney General’s Office report released Thursday.

The report concluded Ahearn is not criminally liable for the death of Susan LoTempio, 64.

LoTempio, who was crossing Hertel at an angle and not at a crosswalk, was wearing dark clothing at the time she was hit, investigators found.

“We find that the death of Ms. LoTempio was a tragic accident for which there is no criminal culpability,” the AG’s Office concluded.

Ahearn struck LoTempio about 6:30 a.m. March 30 near the intersection of Hertel and Tennyson avenues, a block east of Delaware Avenue. The incident happened while Ahearn was responding to a call on Starin Avenue from an elderly man who police believed may have had diminished mental capacity. The man had reported an intruder in his home, according to the report.

LoTempio, who was out on her usual morning walk at the time she was hit, died at the scene.

Poor visibility due to lighting conditions and the wet roads caused a glare that may have affected both Ahearn and LoTempio, the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit of the AG's Office said.

It was the right headlight on the police vehicle – the side LoTempio was walking on – that was out, according to the report.

The Buffalo News asked Buffalo police officials if they would be available for questions about the report. In response, The News received the following statement from the department by email:

"The Buffalo Police Department would like to thank the New York State Attorney General's Office for their thorough investigation into this tragic car accident. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the LoTempio family."

Report on the Investigation into The Death of Susan LoTempio (Text)

Ahearn, who was the only officer inside a 2016 Dodge Charger, was responding to the call without lights or sirens activated.

An investigation by the State Police Collision Reconstruction Unit found the “primary cause” of the collision was “pedestrian error.” At the same time, the State Police investigators concluded Ahearn “was distracted by the function of a mobile computer screen” that partially blocked his field of vision.

The AG’s office recommends in the report that the Buffalo police department look at changing where the mobile computer terminals are placed within police vehicles.

“While changing the placement of the MCT may not have prevented this accident, we recommend that BPD explore changing the placement of the MCT so as not to obstruct the driver’s view,” investigators wrote.

Ahearn told investigators he had never adjusted the position of his computer terminal in any police vehicle he had used “because the mechanism for adjusting it up and down is typically loose or broken,” according to the report.

Buffalo police received a call at 5:45 a.m. from a man at an address on Starin Avenue that police were familiar with because of a high number of calls for service there, the report said. According to the AG’s Office, police had been called there five times already in 2018, 24 times in the last year and 111 times since 2007.

Ahearn “believed that the caller suffered from delusions and dementia,” according to the report.

New details emerge in North Buffalo police crash that killed woman

At 6:22 a.m., Ahearn and two officers in another vehicle were dispatched from the Northwest District station on Hertel Avenue to the call on Starin.

Both vehicles were heading east on Hertel and the other vehicle, a 2014 Chevrolet Tahoe, was just ahead of Ahearn’s vehicle.

Just as Ahearn passed through the intersection at Hertel and Tennyson, a notice about the call he was responding to popped up on the computer terminal in his vehicle and made “an audible chirping noise” at the same time, according to the AG’s report.

“Ahearn quickly glanced at the MCT,” investigators found. “Nearly simultaneously, he heard an impact with his vehicle.”

The driver of the other police vehicle responding to the call, identified as Officer Nicholas Militello, told investigators he “had not recognized that there was a person on the roadway prior to the collision.”

The State Police concluded Ahearn was driving between 43 and 47 miles per hour near the moment of impact. Hertel Avenue in that area has a 30 mph speed limit, but Ahearn was legally allowed to exceed the speed limit because he was driving a police vehicle and responding to a call for police assistance, the AG’s report said.

LoTempio was thrown about 103 feet due to the impact, State Police investigators concluded.

Ahearn submitted blood and urine samples, and investigators found he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the collision.

Investigators also determined he had not been using his cellphone before or at the time of the collision.

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