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Buffalo man hailed a hero for saving lives during deadly blizzard

Jay Withey on surveillance camera at the school where he and others sought shelter during the winter stormCheektowaga Police

A man who got stuck in his car during the deadly Buffalo blizzard last week is being hailed as a hero for saving more than a dozen lives.

After breaking into a nearby school in New York’s Eerie County for shelter, Jay Withey, 27, went back into the storm, searching for others.

Ultimately, he made sure 24 people stranded on the side of the road got out of harm’s way, police said.

At least 39 people died in the area, one of the hardest hit by the storm.

“It was the only time in my life I actually thought I was going to die,” Mr Withey said in a local radio interview.

Local police who witnessed Mr Withey’s actions on the school’s surveillance cameras called him heroic and posted a message on Twitter, in which they sought to thank him for his actions.

On Friday 23 December, Mr Withey was stranded in his truck with another person who he said he pulled off the street.

“Snow piled up against my truck,” Mr Withey said. “You hear people freezing to death in their cars, it was a very scary moment.”

Growing desperate, he headed into a nearby neighbourhood for help and knocked on the doors of several houses, but was denied each time.

He was forced to return to his car where, later that evening, an elderly woman “scared for her life and freezing” knocked on the door and asked to join.

They rotated shifts turning the car on and off throughout the night for heat, Mr Withey said, until fuel ran out. He called police but was told they couldn’t help, he said.

That’s when Mr Withey saw the school, broke a classroom window, and entered the cafeteria for food and water.

Shortly, he was out in the brutal cold again hoping to save more people.

“I walked until I cried,” he said. “I walked until I couldn’t anymore.”

The group remained inside the school until the storm calmed the next day.

Mr Withey said he felt humbled and grateful. But also a little guilty.

He left behind a note for police.

“I’m terribly sorry about breaking into the school,” he wrote. “I had to do it to save everyone.”

A handwritten note from Jay Withey

Cheektowaga Police

Police have lauded his efforts as heroic.

“The selflessness that people showed to help others during the storm is what WNY (Western New York) is really made of,” the Cheektowaga Police Department posted on its Facebook page. “This group of amazing people took care of each other and the building they found shelter in.”

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