When the Rev. Francis X. “Butch” Mazur read about the recent hit-and-run fatality in the Town of Evans, the news story hit him like a thunderbolt.
“I know exactly how these people feel,” Mazur said, talking about the family of Barry “Bob” Moss, who was killed three days before Christmas on Route 5 in Evans. “My family and I have been through the same thing.”
Police have made some progress in the probe into Moss’ death, impounding the sport utility vehicle that they believe hit the 52-year-old father of three. But so far, there have been no arrests.
Mazur, chaplain of the Erie County Medical Center, has been closely following the Moss investigation. He said the case brings back memories of the death of his sister, Susan T. Mazur, a widely respected school teacher, who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in Evans 28 years ago last week. Her death has been unsolved since Feb. 17, 1986, and is one of four unsolved hit-and-run fatalities in the town.
“The police chased all kinds of leads but never got anywhere,” said Mazur, 64. “Even after all these years, our family still wants closure. We want answers about what happened.”
Susan Mazur was 34 when a vehicle struck her from behind as she walked on Delameter Road, near her parents’ home. She had gone out for a walk that day while visiting her parents. Evans police speculated that she was struck in the head by a mirror – possibly from a large pickup truck – as she walked for exercise on a sunny winter day.
Susan Mazur was a high school French and Spanish teacher and a volunteer with the American Red Cross and several other organizations. Family members said she had a soft spot in her heart for immigrants and spent time as a translator for migrant workers from Mexico and Haiti. At the time of her death, Mazur was still trying to recover from a tragedy and was getting ready to start a new chapter in her life.
Her fiancé, Dr. Eddy Muzac, was killed in an automobile accident the previous October. She moved out of her apartment in the Village of Warsaw to a new one in the Town of Boston, and she left her job at Perry High School in Wyoming County for a new one at Springville-Griffith Institute in Springville.
“On the day she was killed, it was a vacation day for Presidents’ Day. She was going to start her new job the very next day,” Mazur said. “I had to go to the high school that next morning and tell the principal that he was going to have to find another teacher, because my sister was dead.”
Former Evans Police Chief Samuel V. DeJohn, who retired in 2008, remembers the Susan Mazur case. He said he and his late partner, Detective Norman Boergers, spent years chasing down “hundreds of leads and tips” without coming close to an arrest. State police also took a few cracks at the case.
“We had all kinds of leads. People would call and say, ‘I know the guy who did this. He had his truck fixed.’ But we’d go out and find there was nothing to it,” DeJohn said this week. “I got to know Father Butch and his family very well – very nice people. It’s one of those cases that still haunts me, years after my retirement.”
Based on laboratory tests conducted on Susan Mazur’s body, police said they believed the vehicle that hit her had been repainted white, over a red metallic paint, with brown primer underneath that.
“We found a lot of tire tracks in the snow and took evidence to experts at Calspan,” DeJohn said. “We believed it was a very big pickup truck that hit her from behind, but we never did locate it.”
Vehicular hit-and-run cases can be difficult to solve, DeJohn lamented.
“It’s very hard to put a driver at the wheel without any witnesses,” he said. “You need someone to come forward, someone who knows what happened.”
Whoever killed Susan Mazur has had a lot to live with for the past 28 years, DeJohn said.
“I don’t know how someone sleeps at night when they have done something like that,” DeJohn said.
Interest in the case rekindled in 2003, police said, after a telephone call was made to the home of Susan Mazur’s parents, Walter and Sophia Mazur.
“A man anonymously called my parents and said, ‘I know something about what happened, and it’s all going to come out soon,’ ” Mazur said. “The police tried to track it down, but nothing came of it. Over the years, we’ve heard all kinds of rumors about what happened.”
In addition to Father Mazur, Susan Mazur is survived by three sisters and two other brothers. The unsolved death was tough on the family, especially her parents, Mazur said.
Walter Mazur died at age 85 in 2001. Sophia Mazur died four years later at age 88. The couple had been married since 1938.
“For a long time after the accident, my mother would sit in her house and look out the window, hoping to see Susan walking up the driveway,” the priest said.
A couple of good things resulted from his sister’s death, Mazur said. Friends and family members started a charity fund in Susan Mazur’s honor, and thousands of dollars were sent to a Catholic missionary group in India. About three years after the hit-and-run death, the money was used to build a church, St. Theresa’s, in the small Indian village of Mariapuram. “Theresa” was Susan Mazur’s middle name.
“I visited the church not long after it was built. They had a picture of my sister up on the wall, and a plaque remembering her in front of the church,” Mazur said. “I understand the picture is still there. A garland of fresh flowers is put around her picture every day.”
As chaplain of the region’s busiest trauma hospital for the past 10 years, Mazur has spent countless hours with families whose loved ones have been killed or seriously injured in shootings, stabbings, fires and accidents. He said he believes the loss of his sister has helped him to understand what those families are going through, and do a better job of helping them.
Although the state’s statute of limitations would no longer allow authorities to criminally prosecute the driver who killed Susan Mazur, her family still wishes the mystery could be solved.
“We’d still like to know the truth. It’s not in a spirit of vengeance,” Father Mazur said. “We’d like answers, even if it came in the form of an anonymous letter. How did it happen? Why didn’t the person stop to help? We’re a forgiving family, but we’d like to know.”
The Mazur case is one of four fatal hit-and-run cases that remain unsolved in Evans, according to Police Chief Ernest Masullo, a 36-year police veteran.
In addition to the Moss case, the deaths of Phil Ernst, who was killed in 2001, and Jay Murphy, who died after being struck by a hit-run vehicle in 2009, also remain unsolved.
“They’re sad cases, and they’re the kind of cases that drive a policeman crazy,” Masullo said. “It bothers you to know that someone out there knows exactly what happened and is covering it up.”
Anyone with information about any of the unsolved hit-and-runs is asked to call the department at 549-3600, Masullo said.