BUFFALO, NY– A man who rescued more than 20 people during the deadly snowstorm that blanketed Erie County, New York, in December was thanked for his actions with Super Bowl tickets, gifted in part by the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
When Jay Withey, a mechanic in the town of Cheektowaga, found himself among dozens of people trapped in their cars during the storm, he broke into a school building and gathered nearly two dozen people there to shelter from the harsh conditions that would eventually disappear nearly 40 people died.
For his heroic efforts, he earned two tickets to next month’s Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona, in a collaboration between the Buffalo Bills and the regional branch of insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Legendary former Bills running back Thurman Thomas personally delivered the surprise to Withey Friday.
“We love you. We know what you did on Christmas Eve was very heroic and you are our hero,” Thurman told Withey in a video released by the team.
The blizzard buried Buffalo in nearly 52 inches of snow in late December, leaving many people stuck on snow-covered roads as emergency responders were unable to navigate extremely dangerous whiteout conditions.
Withey went out in the storm to rescue a friend, but quickly found himself trapped. Over the course of the night, he was turned away by several households asking them to house him, eventually crammed into cars with two other people asking him for help. But just as her gas supply was dangerously low, Withey discovered there was a school nearby.
After breaking the school window and opening the front doors, Withey went back into the snow to find others who were stuck and brought them back inside the building to feed and warm.
“You get into a situation like this, you have to think of yourself, think of others,” Withey told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield on Sunday. “It’s just about surviving and doing the right thing and being respectful.”
The next day, Christmas morning, Withey and the others were able to use snow blowers from the janitor’s closet to clear snow piles from their cars. Withey left a note apologizing for the break-in, which police found when they were finally able to respond.
The police were able to find Withey and thank him. “He definitely saved some lives that day,” Cheektowaga Police Chief Brian Gould said at the time.
“Buffalo is a city of good neighbors, actually great neighbors,” Withey said Sunday, adding, “We’re all just one big family. Everyone just sticks together and we are resilient. You can’t bring us down.”
Buffalo’s resilience was shown to its fullest over the past year as it suffered a series of tragic blows, including the deadly snowstorm, a racist mass shooting and the mid-game collapse of Bills player Damar Hamlin, who suffered cardiac arrest on the field earlier in this month.
Withey spoke to CNN as he drove behind ahead of the Bills’ game against the Miami Dolphins, which Buffalo won 34-31.