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Someone is harboring a dark secret about the death of Barry “Bob” Moss. A hit-and-run driver struck and killed the 52-year-old handyman, father and grandfather on Route 5, near Gold Street, in the Town of Evans early on the morning of Dec. 22.

Moss, who was returning home after visiting with friends, was either riding or walking his bicycle, police say, when a Ford sport utility vehicle struck and fatally injured him, probably sometime between midnight and 1 a.m.

The driver of the SUV took off, leaving Moss to die in the snow. His body wasn’t found until 6 a.m.

Within two days of the hit-and-run incident, Evans Police said they found out who owned the SUV that killed Moss. Investigators impounded the vehicle, which had been taken to a collision shop in Dunkirk – about 20 miles south of Evans – for repairs.

That’s where the investigation stands today, more than a month after Moss’ death.

People in Evans seem to know who owns the vehicle, even though police have not publicly identified the owner, Moss’ family members said, and neighbors have been talking about the unsolved fatality while offering the family condolences.

“People want justice,” said Charlotte Moss, the victim’s mother. “That’s my hope, too.”

While police will not identify the owner of the vehicle, Moss’ family – citing their own talks with investigators – and other sources who have direct knowledge of the case say the owner of the vehicle is Gabriele “Gabe” Ballowe, 48, one of the operators of the South Shore Beach Club on Old Lakeshore Road, a popular beachfront bar in Evans.

Police say they have the vehicle. They’re still interviewing witnesses, examining physical evidence and consulting closely with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office and the Erie County Medical Examiner.

But police face a major obstacle as they carry on their investigation. The owner of the vehicle refuses to talk to police.

“The person of interest in this case has ‘lawyered up,’ ” said Lt. Richard Czora, the lead detective in the Evans police force. “She’s not talking to us.”

Ballowe has hired one of the region’s top defense attorneys, Thomas Eoannou, to represent her, and Eoannou confirmed that he represents Ballowe because police believe her vehicle struck Moss.

“I do represent her in connection with this investigation, but beyond that, I can’t really comment about it,” Eoannou said. “I’ve heard the rumors, and I would ask people not to jump to any conclusions about what happened in this case.”

Was Ballowe driving the SUV when it struck Moss?

Whether she or someone else was driving it, does she feel any moral obligation to tell police and the Moss family what she knows?

“I really can’t comment,” Eoannou said.

He said he is not sure, at this point, in what direction the police investigation is going.

Ballowe and her husband, Gary Ballowe, did not respond to telephone messages from The News. State Liquor Authority records list both as owners of the liquor license for the South Shore Beach Club, one of several popular beachfront bars in Evans. Town records list Gary Ballowe as the sole owner of the property.

Although police issued three news releases after the fatality and although Czora was allowed to talk to a News reporter about the case, all police reports on the hit-and-run are being kept secret by Evans Police Chief Ernie Masullo. He rejected The News’ Freedom of Information request seeking access to police reports on the fatality. Masullo said he will not release anything at this time because there is an ongoing investigation.

The News is filing an appeal with Evans town officials.

The situation has caused great anguish and distress for Moss’ loved ones, including his three grown daughters, his mother, his three grandchildren and two sisters.

A retired nurse, Charlotte Moss was going over “about 100” sympathy cards sent to her in recent weeks when a reporter interviewed her at her Evans home.

“People have been very kind,” she said.

Evans is a small town, and many people in the town knew her son, Moss said. They also know the identity of the woman who owns the vehicle that hit her son, she said.

People in town have been especially sympathetic because they know the fatality devastated her family just three days before Christmas.

“My son was a very good handyman, a hard worker. He did roofing, put up siding, built fences and did all kinds of other work on homes in this town. He was outgoing and friendly. A lot of people knew him,” Moss said.

Moss and her daughter, Maria Wrafter, told The News that they believe police and prosecutors are doing their best to solve the case, but they said the past month has been a painful and frustrating time for their family.

“I’ve been told to be patient, but it’s very difficult to do that, to know that the person who owns this vehicle is out and about,” Charlotte Moss said. “As a parent, as a human being, I would ask the person who drove that SUV, ‘How could you do this? How could you not stop to help?’ That is very hard for me to comprehend.”

Wrafter, who also lives in Evans, said she is convinced that there are several people in Evans who know what happened to her brother and are remaining silent.

“These people are defending a person who would hit someone with a car and leave him for dead,” Wrafter said.

“I believe there are at least a few people who are covering up for what happened. They need to know that my brother’s mother, his children, his grandchildren and other people are really struggling with this.”

The family has hired its own attorney, Michael P. Caffery, to investigate possible litigation on behalf of Moss’ three daughters.

“I do represent the estate. I have spoken to Tom Eoannou about this case. I can’t say what we discussed, but we’re watching and waiting to see what happens,” Caffery said. “We know that there are people criticizing, saying this case should be over quickly, but I want to say publicly that we feel Lt. Czora, Chief Masullo and the Evans Police are doing a good job of pursuing this case. The family appreciates it.”

To Moss and Wrafter, it is significant that the owner of the SUV took her damaged vehicle to Dunkirk for repairs, rather than using one of several much closer collision shops that were available in Evans or Hamburg.

While declining to identify the owner of the SUV by name, Czora said police are certain that the SUV they recovered is the vehicle that fatally injured Moss.

“I can’t get into specifics ... but the person who is responsible for this incident is not taking responsibility,” Czora said. “The person needs to take responsibility and show some remorse. We’re not talking about a fender-bender in a Tops parking lot. This is serious. You don’t cover up something like this.”

Do police believe Moss could have survived his injuries if the driver had stopped, called 911 and summoned medical help to the scene?

“We don’t know,” Czora said. “Whatever happens with the case, the person who did this has to live with it.”

While several people have posted remarks on the Evans Police Facebook site, chiding police for the lack of an arrest, Czora said detectives and officers are actively searching for information. He asked that anyone who has information contact him at 549-3600.

Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said he could not discuss details of the probe, but he said prosecutors are working closely with Evans Police.

Family members and friends of Moss will hold a candlelight vigil in his memory at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 1.

The vigil will be held at the Evans Town Park on Old Lakeshore Road – right across from the South Shore Beach Club.

“We’re just hoping that someone who knows what happened that night will do the right thing and come forward,” Wrafter said.

email: dherbeck@buffnews.com