Donations come quickly in wake of local trooper's death
Disease research gets boost; probe of crash continues
CAPITAL REGION Even on Monday, Kenneth Hobby said he was still getting notifications every few minutes of online donations coming in. The checks sent through the mail were just starting to arrive.
Hobby is the president of the organization Families of SMA, the group that state Trooper David Cunniff and his wife Amy worked so hard to support. The group works to find a treatment and cure for the disease that has afflicted the Cunniffs’ 6-year-old son, Caleb.
Following last week’s death of David Cunniff, the family asked that memorial contributions be sent to Families of SMA.
Hobby on Monday said he didn’t have a dollar figure on how much has come in, but that the group has been overwhelmed with the response.
“We can’t say enough how grateful we are,” Hobby said.
Cunniff, 35, of Princetown, died Dec. 17 of injuries suffered when a tractor-trailer slammed into his trooper car on the Thruway during a traffic stop in Amsterdam the night before.
The state troopers’ PBA has been taking donations through a special fund to go directly to the family.
Meanwhile, another police charity, one started by the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, has pledged $20,000 for each of the Cunniffs’ two boys to go toward their education.
Cunniff had pulled over Eric Heller, 57, of Stony Creek, near Exit 27 in Amsterdam. Both he and Heller were in their vehicles when Gary Blakley, 65, of Ontario, Canada, drove his tractor-trailer into both of them, police said.
Blakley was uninjured in the crash. Heller was left trapped inside his vehicle, but conscious and responsive.
Heller was taken to Albany Medical Center for his injuries. He has since been released from the hospital.
The accident happened as Blakley’s tractor-trailer swerved from the left lane, crossed the right lane and plowed into the two cars along the right shoulder of the road near the exit off-ramp, police said.
Cunniff‘s car was idling and his emergency lights flashing at the time of the crash.
Neither alcohol nor weather is considered a factor in the crash, officials have said.
The investigation continued Monday and is not expected to conclude for some time, Montgomery County District Attorney Jed Conboy said.
Investigators are awaiting the results of blood tests conducted on Blakley, as well as the results of further interviews, Conboy said.
“Some interviews have been done. More need to be done,” Conboy said. “Other information needs to be gathered. Once it all comes together, then a decision will be made.”
Conboy said later, “We’re not going to rush through this thing.”
Blakley has been cooperative with state police investigators, Conboy said.
As a truck driver, Blakley is required to keep a log of his hours driven. Conboy declined to say Monday whether that log was up to date. State police last week said that Blakley’s driving record included log book infractions in the past.
Blakley, though, has been allowed to return to his home in Canada as the investigation proceeds, Conboy said. He said authorities will be able to get him back, should the need arise.
As far as the cause of the accident, Conboy said it is still premature to pinpoint a reason.
A family spokesman said Friday that the family believes the accident was just that, an accident.
Speaking to reporters prior to Cunniff’s funeral Friday, the family’s pastor at Grace Fellowship Church, the Rev. Tim Owens, said that’s what they believe.
“They want the truck driver, they want the other victim of the accident to understand that this was an accident, as far as they see,” Owens told reporters. “And the only thing they want for everyone involved is for them to move forward with the family in healing together.”
Asked if that meant Cunniff’s widow Amy had forgiven the driver, Owens said it did.
“That absolutely means she has forgiven the truck driver,” Owens said.
Owens delivered Cunniff’s eulogy Friday during the funeral.
The New York State Troopers PBA Signal 30 Benefit Fund is taking donations on the family’s behalf. The fund is set up so all of the money donated to a fallen trooper’s family goes to that trooper’s family, PBA president Thomas Mungeer said.
The fund is named for the call that troopers give if they need help right away, Mungeer said.
Mungeer also sits on the board of the Silver Shield Foundation, a charity founded by Steinbrenner that benefits the children of fallen law enforcement officers and firefighters.
Mungeer said the foundation has pledged $20,000 for each of the Cunniff’s two boys to go toward their education.
“We’ll be there for her family as long as they need us,” Mungeer said. “They’re a part of our family now. All she needs to do is ask and we’ll do whatever we can for her.”
Donations can be made in memory of Trooper David Cunniff to Families of SMA, 925 Busse Road, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60007, or www.curesma.org.
Donations to the Cunniff family, through the Trooper’s PBA Signal 30 Foundation, can be made to NYS Troopers PBA Signal 30, 120 State St., Suite 2, Albany, NY, 12207 or by going to Signal30.org. Be sure and indicate that the donation is to go to the family of David Cunniff.