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Driver who struck, killed tow-truck worker on I-190 had been drinking at casino

By Gene Warner and Matt Gryta - News Staff Reporters
Updated: 04/03/08 9:12 AM


 David Brown

The Cheektowaga man accused of driving the SUV that struck and killed a tow-truck operator on the Niagara Thruway early Wednesday later told investigators he had drunk about six glasses of wine at a casino, authorities said.

The tow-truck operator, Kevin Coffta, 28, of Clarence Center, was struck and killed while preparing to tow an abandoned vehicle from the shoulder of the southbound Niagara Thruway in the Town of Tonawanda.

Coffta was standing outside his flatbed tow truck, shortly before 4:50 a.m. Wednesday, when a southbound SUV driven by David Brown, 64, of Cheektowaga, drifted onto the shoulder and sideswiped the abandoned vehicle, then struck Coffta and his truck, state police said.

Coffta, who was working for Marty’s Towing Service on Grand Island, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Brown’s SUV flipped over several times before landing on its roof in the median. He suffered only a minor hand cut, according to state police.

Investigators charged Brown, of Markus Drive, with second-degree vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated.

Brown told investigators he had about six glasses of wine at the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, where he had spent about 12 hours gambling until about 4 a.m., according to Lynette M. Reda, chief of the Erie County district attorney’s new Vehicular Crimes Bureau.

Reda also said Brown registered a 0.09 percent blood-alcohol level in a Breathalyzer test that led to his arrest and jailing.

Brown was jailed in lieu of $25,000 bail, following his arraignment before Town of Tonawanda Justice J. Mark Gruber late Wednesday morning. Gruber is expected to conduct a felony hearing in the case this afternoon.

State police closed the southbound lanes of the highway, between Sheridan Drive and Ontario Street, after the crash. The lanes remained closed through the morning rush hour.

Troopers who patrol the Niagara Thruway and other expressways pointed out that Wednesday’s crash underscores both the risks taken by tow-truck operators and the need for drivers to observe caution in driving by them.

“The work these tow-truck drivers do out there is valuable work, important work and sometimes dangerous work,” State Police Capt. Michael Nigrelli said, as he cautioned other drivers. “This was a very preventable crash.”

Nigrelli talked about the double tragedy.

“Mr. Coffta is out there working on his job, thinking he’s going to be safe and going back to his family,” Nigrelli said. “He was performing a job he’s probably done hundreds of times. At the same time, this gentleman [Brown] made the fatal mistake of having too much to drink and getting behind the wheel. As a result, two lives have been ruined.”