News10NBC Investigates: Family wants justice for father who died a year after being hit in Buffalo police chase

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BUFFALO, N.Y. – A local family says they want justice for their father who died almost a year to the day after the truck he was in was hit by a car fleeing from police.

That chase happened in Buffalo and the Buffalo police say at the time of the crash, the father said he wasn’t hurt.

But his family says their video shows, and MRIs, confirm their father had a head injury and his health got worse as the year went on until he died in June.

The family says Buffalo police, and the Erie County District Attorney’s office, have done nothing for them until News10NBC got involved.

The 16-year-old driver running from police was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, fleeing police and assault on a police officer. But there’s no evidence he even got a ticket for hitting the truck Joe Rittler Sr. was sitting in.

“Are you okay?” Joe Rittler Jr. asked his dad on cell phone video.

“They got him! They got him!” his cousin yelled recording on his phone from the back seat of the truck.

It was chaos in Buffalo on June 3, 2021.

Moments before cell phone video started recording, Joe Rittler Sr., his son Joe and grandson were sitting in their parked truck.

Security camera video shows a white SUV chased by Buffalo Police crashed into Rittler’s truck. The young men inside the SUV that was being chased, got out and ran, and the police pursued them. But back in the cab of the truck, 81 year old Joe Rittler Sr. was holding his head and hurt.

“Holy (expletive)!” the cousin said.

“Oh (expletive),” Joe Jr. said to his dad. “You hit your head bad.”

“Don’t worry grampa,” the cousin said. “Everything is okay.”

While that was happening, Buffalo Police were busy catching the men in the car, and then trying to save the life of one of their fellow officers, Jonathan Negron, who was severely hurt in the chase.

Moments later, the video shows Joe Rittler Sr. was out of the truck but the video shows the welt swelling above his right eye.

“He was just a really good guy all the way around,” Rittler Jr. said.

Joe Rittler Jr. says his dad was in good health before the crash but after, it went down hill fast. MRI’s and CAT scans showed a brain injury. By April he couldn’t get out of bed and couldn’t speak. Then, he received the sacrament of last rites. And, on June 1, 2022, almost a year after the crash, he died.

“We all wish it didn’t happen that way. It feels like he was stolen from us,” Rittler said.

Rittler’s name is in the Buffalo Police report and the diagram of the crash shows his truck — vehicle number three. But, the driver of the white SUV was never charged with hitting the truck or hurting Rittler. A spokesman for BPD says Rittler “gave detectives a statement stating he suffered no injuries during the incident.”

“But they never inquired about our injuries and they certainly never took any photos of my father or anything who had a softball size welt on his head,” Rittler Jr. said.

In a letter written on July 22, 2022, a month and a half after Rittler died, his doctor at URMC wrote about Rittler’s “precipitous decline” connected to a “high speed” accident.

“It is probable that this motor vehicle accident including direct trauma to the brain and subsequent physiological and emotional stress contributed to the unusually rapid progression of his dementia,” Dr. Benzi Kluger wrote.

“If you are running from the police and cause an accident and hurt someone you should be charged with a crime for that,” Rittler Jr. said. “So we want answers. And we want justice for our father because he fought for us innumerable times during our lives. And we’re trying to fight for him so he can get justice.”

Last week in Rochester, when a driver chased by state police crashed into a car with a family of three, the driver was charged with three counts of assault.

The Erie County DA’s office told me they were not aware that anyone else was hurt in the crash in Buffalo.

“During the prosecution of this case, our office was not presented with evidence of another person being injured in the collision. Officer Negron was the only reported victim to receive medical treatment for injuries sustained as a result of the crash that occurred on June 3, 2021,” wrote DA spokeswoman Kaitlyn Munro. “Based on this new information, the Erie County DA’s Office is now conducting an investigation into the death of Mr. Rittler.”