‘I had to do it’: Driver broke into school to save himself and others during Buffalo blizzard

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — In the wake of the deadly blizzard which claimed more than three dozen lives in western New York, police are crediting a stranded driver with heroic actions that saved others who were trapped in dangerous winter conditions.

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The Cheektowaga Police Department said in a Facebook post that its officers were alerted to an alarm at the Pine Hill School during the storm on Dec. 23. The conditions prevented any officer from responding to the alarm immediately.

When an officer did make it to the school, they found a broken window. Near the broken window was a handwritten note left on a table. The note read, “To whomever it may concern, I’m terribly sorry about breaking the school window and for breaking in the kitchen. Got stuck at 8 p.m. Friday and slept in my truck with two strangers just trying not to die. There were seven elderly people also stuck and out of fuel. I had to do it to save everyone and get them shelter and food and a bathroom. Merry Christmas, Jay.”

In the post, officers said, “We watched the video surveillance and witnessed people taking care of people There was a freezer full of food but no one touched it. They only ate what was necessary to stay alive. They used the gym for the kids to play and pulled the smart boards out of the classrooms to watch the news for updates. They had 2 dogs they were also attending to. When they were finally able to leave safely, you would never have known anyone was there.” The group plugged in the smart boards, cleaned up the tables and returned everything the way it was found.

Police put out a call to identify “Jay” saying they did not want to press charges, but rather wanted to recognize him for “his going above and beyond actions that saved lives.”

Jay Withey, a mechanic, told CNN that he broke into the school only after he was turned away from 10 different houses where he sought shelter.

“I plead with them, ‘Please, please can I sleep on the floor, I’m in fear for my life,’ and they say, ‘No I’m sorry,” Withey told CNN. Withey said he offered each homeowner $500.

After breaking into the school, Withey went back out and searched for other stranded drivers. He brought them back to the school to get warm.

“My mission was just to keep going out and grabbing as many people as I can and to just keep going,” Withey told NBC News. “I just kept walking, and I walked until I cried and I couldn’t walk any further. I was just beat.”

The Cheektowaga Police Department posted an update on its Facebook page after identifying Jay and said Gould was able to speak to him and express his gratitude. Included with the post was a photo of the group taken inside of the school the night of the storm. Jay told officers that “they are all now like family and planning a SUMMER get together.”