ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) - A Buffalo Bills fan ejected from Thursday's night game against the Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium was later found dead face down in Smokes Creek.
Searchers found the body of 26-year-old David Gerken, Jr. of Palmyra in the creek bed near the stadium in a wooded area behind Shadow Lane in Orchard Park early Friday morning. Gerken, his brother, and a friend had traveled from the Rochester area to Orchard Park, to see the game.
RELATED | This was not the only incident in Orchard Park during Thursday's game. One man was hit by a car, State Police arrested seven people, and Orchard Park Police made 24 arrests. County Executive Mark Poloncarz was critical of Bills' fans behavior in the wake of the multiple arrests
Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew Benz said, "He was located in the stream, at the bottom of the ravine there behind the stadium. So far, we've learned that he was ejected from the Bills game, sometime around halftime, is my understanding. He made arrangements with his brother and a friend of his that he was at the game with, via telephone, that they would meet at Tailgaters."
But instead of going toward Tailgaters, at the corner of Abbott and Southwestern, Gerken - for reasons unknown - turned in the opposite direction and went into the woods, toward the creek. Even with the stadium lights on, it would have been quite dark in the area Gerken passed through.
"The preliminary results are that it was an accidental drowning. They also feel that hypothermia may've played a role in his demise," Chief Benz said, who added Gerken had no injuries to suggest he had been knocked unconscious.
Gerken's brother and friend had searched for him for hours. When they found no sign of the 26-year-old, they called in authorities to help in the search. Crews began looking around 5 a.m. and located Gerken's body a few hours later by getting a ping from a cellphone tower.
Gerken's girlfriend of two years, Brittany Zonneville, just learned of his death Friday morning.
"I still don't believe it," she said. "His brother called me this morning and let me know, and I think I asked him ten times if he was serious."
Zonneville and Gerken had some rough patches, but recently, she says things were going well.
"He picked me up from basically rock-bottom, and just made life a lot easier. He... made the colors a lot brighter; made every day a lot more special," Zonneville said.
Gerken worked for Heritage Packaging in Greece. His company released a statement saying Gerken was recently promoted to a foreman position and earned the "Employee of the Month" award in August. It added, "Dave was a talented young man who was well liked by all of his co-workers and a valued staff member here at work. His positive attitude and friendly nature will be greatly missed by us all."
Police say they do not yet know why Gerken was kicked out of Ralph Wilson Stadium or if alcohol played any role in his death.
The Bills released a statement offering their condolences to Gerken's family, and also said, "We are currently cooperating with law enforcement officials to find out the details of this unfortunate incident."
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