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Man buried alive, family shares story of loss

Posted at 9:31 PM, Nov 21, 2014
and last updated 2015-11-16 21:31:55-05

Donald Abate 46, was found dead in his car late Tuesday. His family says he repeatedly called emergency workers and thought help was on the way but it arrived too late.

MORE | On deaths in Erie, Niagara and Genesee counties

Jackie Abate fought back tears as she shared the story of her devastating loss, "I lost the love of my life. I'm so sorry for his parents to go through this. I'm so sorry," she cried.

You could hear all of the anguish in her voice of a grieving wife, now a widow.

Abate's husband of 13 years Donald Abate was one of the first to fall victim to this storm.  He was found dead inside his car in Alden late Tuesday near the intersection of Broadway and Two Rod Road in a ditch at a car wash.

"At 2:30 am he knew he was in trouble.  At 2:30 in the morning on Tuesday morning he knew he was in trouble and he called AAA then," his mother Mary Ann Abate exclaimed.

Donald was a corrections officer and had been in constant communication with his family after he left his job at the federal detention facility in Batavia around midnight early Tuesday morning.

He knew the thruway was closed and was taking the streets to get back to his Blasdell home.  But the weather conditions were so intense Donald sought shelter in a bay at the car wash on Broadway.

He tried to wait out the storm but with the relentless snow he decided to leave the car wash and head to a Tops store he passed while driving.

Tragically, the former 911 dispatcher never got far.  As he attempted to drive out of the car wash's driveway his black KIA SUV fell into a ditch and he couldn't get out.

"And he can't open the doors. He can't open the doors of the car and it's becoming more difficult to see because the car is starting to be buried," said his mother Mary Ann.

Donald, his wife and parents frantically called AAA, the Erie County Sheriff's Office, New York State troopers and 911, by then Donald's car was hidden under 15 feet of snow.

"We did ask him, 'Do you have anything to eat in the car?'  He said, 'I got some candy bars.'  He says, 'Mom don't worry. I got some candy bars. I'll be ok, I'll be okay.'"

That phone call was nearly 12 hours after Donald became stuck and that would be his final contact with his family.

"When he didn't answer his phone and texts I knew something was wrong, I knew it," said his wife Jackie.

His family says AAA was headed to rescue him but they were turned away by authorities because of the driving ban.

Other emergency workers and neighbors in the area say they never saw his vehicle hidden under the blanket of snow.

The family begged authorities to use the pings from his cell phone to find him but say they were brushed off.

Later, authorities did end up using GPS technology from all those phone calls for help from Donald's cell to locate him, buried in his car, dead.

Donald's parents have decided not to have an autopsy conducted. 

AAA issued the following statement:

"We at AAA Western and Central New York are deeply saddened at the tragic loss of Mr. Abate.  This is an extremely unfortunate situation.  As a result of unprecedented and dangerous weather conditions and despite our best efforts, neither AAA -  nor police and emergency personnel -  were able to reach Mr. Abate. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and family during this difficult time."