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Police to hand over tapes from Snowvember death

Posted at 8:53 AM, Feb 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-19 08:53:35-05

The New York State Police Department is expected to turn over 911 tapes Friday that could hold the answer to whether a man who died during the Snowvember 2014 storm stayed in his car because he believed help was on the way.

The family of 46-year-old Douglas Abate filed a notice of claim against Erie County, the Erie County Sheriff's Office and the Erie County Department of Public Works in February 2015. In the lawsuit, the family says first responders told Abate that they were sending help, so he did not try to leave his car.

To try and figure out what happened, State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski has ordered State Police to turn over all communication between State Police and Erie County 911 operators that pertained to Abate and his situation. Friday was the deadline for Police to turn over the information.

Abate became trapped in his vehicle near the intersection of Broadway and Two Rod Road in the early morning of November 18, 2014 after his car fell into a ditch while he was driving home from his job as a corrections officer in Batavia.

He called AAA for help.

"At 2:30 a.m. 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 said. “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.”

The Abate family says that 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.

Documents obtained by 7 Eyewitness News show that Abate did indeed call 911 just before 3 a.m. on November 18, 2014.  The same documents also show crews locating Abate's Kia, and confirming that he had died nearly 24 hours later on November 19.

The Abate 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 says they 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.

With the release of the 911 discourse, Justice Michalski will now have to decide there was a breakdown in communication that kept crews from being able to find Abate's car, and whether it ultimately contributed to Abate's death.