By CRISTINE MEIXNER
INDIAN LAKE -- State Police Trooper David W. Cunniff, who was killed in a motor vehicle accident Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, was more than familiar with Indian Lake -- his grandmother and other relatives live here.
The accident happened shortly after 8 p.m. on I-90 of the New York State Thruway, at Exit 27 in Amsterdam. Cunniff was conducting a traffic stop when he was struck by a tractor-trailer.
The rig, driven by Gary Blakley, 65, Ontario, was eastbound in the left lane when it drifted across and off the highway, striking the two stopped vehicles.
Cunniff was in his idling patrol car with emergency lights activated. A passenger vehicle operated by Eric Heller, 57, of Stony Creek was stopped on the right shoulder. Heller was sitting in his vehicle.
The impact forced Cunniff's car off the right shoulder, partially ejecting him from the vehicle. He was airlifted to Albany Medical Center, where he died the next afternoon of massive head trauma.
The tractor-trailer continued on, striking Heller's car and trapping him inside. He was extricated by Amsterdam Fire Department and transported by ambulance to Albany Medical Center, where he was listed in fair condition and later released.
The driver of the tractor-trailer was not injured.
Cunniff lived in Duanesburg. He is survived by his wife of 14 years, Amy; and two sons, Caleb, 6, and Zachary, 4. He was 35 years old.
His uncle, Walter Cunniff of Indian Lake, says David is the son of his youngest brother, Ken Cunniff, who moved from Indian Lake to Schenectady after college, and Deborah Lanphear Cunniff.
David was born in Schenectady and attended Schenectady Christian School. He was home schooled during high school and graduated from the Bryant & Stratton Business Entrepreneurship Program. He was a 2004 graduate of the New York State Police Academy.
A REGULAR VISITOR
"David always enjoyed coming to Indian Lake to visit with his grandmother, Beverly Lanphear," Walt Cunniff said. "He enjoyed hunting behind her home on the Chamberlain Road and at Jack Carroll's camp up in Moose Lake."
This writer did not attempt to contact Beverly Lanphear. Her home on Chamberlain Road burned Friday morning, Jan. 3.
David Cunniff was a talented musician who played several instruments. He was an active member of the worship team at Grace Fellowship Church in Watervliet, where his funeral service was held, playing electric guitar.
"David loved playing the guitar and was really good at it, too," Walt Cunniff said. "He always strived to do his best with the music, because, he said, it made God shine through him."
Walt Cunniff said his nephew "had an old Dodge truck he was always tinkering on." He also loved acting out "Star Wars" with his boys, complete with light sabers.
"He was an incredibly funny guy," the former music director at his church said.
Cunniff was a nine-year veteran of the New York State Police assigned to Troop T in Fultonville. He also worked in Troops B and G and was a member of the then-Executive Services Detail at the New York State Capitol. He was assigned to Troop T in February of 2009.
David was good with people, Walt said. "Other troopers in the barracks all said he was always in a good mood and tried to project his own positive attitude.
"He enjoyed being a state trooper and keeping the other troopers in the barracks laughing. David used to take chocolate covered Oreos wife Amy made for the guys at the barracks, but before he fed them he'd say, 'You know we have physical training coming up.'"
"What a funeral it was, with all the troopers from all over the country," Walt said. "Although I hope I never experience something like that again."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo was with the family at the hospital the night of the accident and for the entire funeral, Walt said.
Sadly, both of David's sons have health problems. Caleb has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a degenerative neuro-muscular disease diagnosed in 2009; and Zachary has severe food allergies, Walt said.
David was an organ donor in honor of Caleb and others battling serious illness. One of his life goals was a treatment and cure for SMA, and he and his wife were chapter leaders for SMA, raising money for treatment and cure.
She asks that any memorial contributions be made to Families of SMA, 925 Busse Rd., Elk Grove Village IL 60007 or www.curesma.org in David's memory.
The NYS Troopers Police Benevolent Association has a special fund to which donations for the family may be made. Another police charity, the Silver Shield Foundation, has pledged $20,000 each toward the education of Cunniff's sons.
Officials say neither alcohol nor weather is considered a factor in the crash. Montgomery County District Attorney Jed Conboy and the State Police are investigating. Trooper Jason Jones, a spokesman for Troop T, says charges will be filed.