How one heroic action ended up saving the lives of many, and catching the eyes of an NFL organization.

In late December of this past year, a historic blizzard ripped through Erie County, New York leaving many without vital supplies, transportation, and stranding many as roads became unusable. As many ran out of gas and police were unable to come to the rescue, the situation turned dire.

One of those trapped was Jay Withey, a mechanic from the nearby town of Cheektowaga who had first set out to help a trapped friend, but soon got caught in the snow himself.

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Withey drove toward his friend, navigating abandoned vehicles deserted on the road. He soon encountered a young man named Mike who appeared lost and in need of help. 

He told Mike to get in the truck, and soon had a companion on his journey. Withey told CNN that his truck became stuck twice, and though he was able to shovel out of the first, the second left him feeling hopeless. “I’m trying to dig myself out, but the snow is coming down just as fast as I’m shoveling,” he said.

Mounting Concerns Become Dire

With the situation becoming more dire by the minute, Withey left Mike in the truck to stay warm, and began knocking on the doors of nearby houses looking for shelter.

Recounting the story to CNN, Withey said he went to 10 households, offering each $500 to stay the night. “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’,” he said.

Defeated, Withey was walking back to his truck when his body began to cramp up, his vision narrowed, and the fear for his life set in. After arriving back to his truck, he decided to try and get some rest. What happened next set off a chain of extraordinary events. 

At around 11pm, Withey was woken by a knock in his window. When he looked up, he saw Mary, an elderly woman who claimed she had been stuck in her car since 4pm that evening. Without hesitation, Withey told her to get in the truck as well, where she joined Mike in the de facto rescue squad. 

By the next morning, the situation had worsened– Withey’s truck had run out of gas, and the three were left to huddle in Mary’s van, with fuel dwindling. In a twist of fate, Mary then had to use the bathroom, which prompted Withey to look for a nearby establishment. Using his phone’s GPS, he noticed that a school– EDGE Academy– was not far.

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“I say, ‘I’m going to that school, and I’m going to break into that school, because I know they have heat and a bathroom,’” he said.

In an act of heroism, Withey smashed through a window of the school so he could open the front door and let Mike and Mary in, while the security alarm blared. Withey soon noticed many other stranded individuals in the nearby area, and before he knew it had about two dozen others assembled in the school– one person even had a dog with them.

An Unlikely Hero Sends Shockwaves Worldwide

Photo courtesy of Cheektowaga Police Department

Before long, Withey had people fed with items from the school cafeteria, resting on gym mats, and warming up inside the building. He even managed to turn off the alarm. On Christmas morning, Withey and the others were able to use snow blowers from the janitor’s closet to free their cars from the mounds of snow. 

Withey describes himself as a religious man, and claims that the entire ordeal was a blessing in disguise in the sense that if one of the homes he knocked on earlier had taken him in, he never would have been able to save so many using the school building. Withey stayed at the school until 8 p.m. on Christmas.

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“I didn’t leave until I made sure everyone was okay,” he said, adding that they started a group chat to stay in touch. Before he left, he even left a note apologizing for the break-in, which police found when they arrived to investigate the alarm– pictured below.

Police Chief Brian Gould told CNN that Withey was in a part of town they were having a hard time reaching. The chief called Withey’s actions heroic and an example of the sense of community among people in the area.

“We were absolutely shocked to see that he had over 20 people in the school and two dogs,” he said. “Not only a heroic action, but just an overall good person.” “He definitely saved some lives that day,” Gould said.

His story even caught the attention of local NFL team the Buffalo Bills, who thanked him for his actions by posting a video of retired Bills running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas and his wife, Patti, surprising him with two tickets to the upcoming Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.

Withey displayed remarkable courage and thoughtfulness, a hero for his community and an inspiration to those beyond.

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