Updated: 12/18/2013 12:41 PM
Created: 12/17/2013 9:07 AM WNYT.com
By: Steve Flamisch
ALBANY – A state trooper has died of the injuries he suffered Monday night when a tractor-trailer plowed into his parked cruiser on the side of the New York State Thruway, State Police said.
David W. Cunniff, 35, of Duanesburg, suffered "massive head trauma" and died Tuesday morning after spending the night on life support, State Police said. He leaves behind a wife and two young boys.
"All I can do is feel bad for her… and for her children," neighbor Stephany Hebert said through tears. "I know they're going through something tragic right before Christmas, and it's horrible."
Cunniff had stopped Eric Heller, 57, of Stoney Creek, for allegedly speeding near exit 27 in Amsterdam at about 8:00 p.m., State Police said.
As Cunniff sat in his cruiser with the emergency lights flashing, and Heller sat in his own vehicle, a tractor-trailer hauling insulation smashed into both cars, State Police said.
"(The truck) dragged the troop car approximately 50 yards, pushing it up an embankment," Superintendent Joseph D’Amico told reporters at a press conference.
"It then struck Mr. Heller’s vehicle, also dragging it about 75 yards before coming to rest on top of the vehicle," D’Amico said. Heller suffered bruises, cuts, and rib injuries. He was listed in fair condition.
Cunniff, who was partially ejected from his cruiser, was unconscious when first responders arrived, and never regained consciousness, D’Amico said.
The truck driver, Gary Blakely, 65, of Canada, was not injured, D’Amico said. Investigators were working to determine what caused the accident, and whether charges will be filed against Blakely.
"The only thing I can say for sure is that it doesn't appear weather or alcohol had any involvement here," D’Amico said, noting that State Police findings will be turned over to the district attorney.
Blakely had several prior "log book infractions," D’Amico said. The log includes a record of hours driven and hours rested. It was unclear whether Blakely was properly rested for this trip.
"A TRUE HERO"
Cunniff is survived by his wife, Amy, and two young children: Zachary, 4, and Caleb, 6, according to the State Police. Caleb has an incurable genetic disorder called Spinal Muscular Atrophy II.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who visited Cunniff in the hospital on the night of the accident, issued a statement Tuesday expressing his condolences to the trooper’s family.
"He leaves behind a wife and two young boys who I hope will remember their father as a true hero here in New York," Cuomo said in the statement.
"On behalf of all New Yorkers, we are deeply grateful for his service, and his loved ones are in our thoughts and prayers."
Thomas Mungeer, president of the New York State Troopers PBA, issued a statement expressing his sorrow and support.
"The PBA, as the labor union, will assist with arrangements for the line-of-duty death funeral, as well as assist Trooper Cunniff’s family and fellow Troopers with whatever needs arise," he said.
Thruway Authority Chairman Howard Milstein and Executive Director Thomas Madison added their condolences, saying they "share in the sadness of this tragic loss."
Grace Fellowship Church in Latham, where Cunniff was a parishioner, posted a Facebook message noting "his big heart, his ready laugh, and his unshakable commitment to his family."
And Stephany Hebert, the neighbor who cried upon learning of Cunniff’s death, wanted the trooper’s family to know that her door is open to them.
"If you need my help, I'm two doors down," Hebert said. "Just come over and knock on the door."
Funeral arrangements were pending.