A trainspotter who caught on video a state supreme court judge being run over by a slow-moving CSX tanker train in Depew last month said it came as a total shock to him as the scene unfolded in 10 seconds.
Alex did not know it at the time, but that man was Judge John L. Michalski, who has been a state supreme court judge since 2006, according to his LinkedIn account.
Alex, who asked that his last name not be published, said he was with one of his closest friends and his father at the Depew Amtrak Station at 11:43 a.m. on Feb. 28 when the incident occurred.
For the first time Alex, who lives in Monroe County, is telling his story. He also provided News 4 Investigates with some of the video footage that he said he has since deleted after he had shared it with law enforcement. News 4 is not sharing the full video.
“He was on the platform basically looking back and forth to see if there was a train coming, which kind of did look a bit weird,” Alex said.
“I thought he might have been a rail fan like us, but I had a little bit of concern when he walked out onto the tracks and when he lay on the tracks, I was like ‘oh, no, this isn’t good.’”
The video shows Michalski, dressed in a red shirt, blue winter vest and tan khakis, jogging across one set of tracks and lying stomach-down across the same track on which the slow-moving train approached. Then he disappears underneath the train.
ECMC told News 4 more than a week ago that Michalski was in stable condition with a serious leg injury. The hospital would not release more information on the judge this time.
Alex said he called 9-1-1 first and then reached out to a few CSX Transportation officers whom he has come to know through his hobby.
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office last week reviewed the case and “determined that no criminal conduct occurred.”
Federal authorities contacted judge
Why was Michalski there in the first place? That remains unclear.
The Buffalo News first reported that federal prosecutors have had interest in the relationship Michalski has with Peter G. Gerace Jr., who operates the Pharaoh’s Gentlemen’s Club in Cheektowaga. The club was raided by law enforcement in December of 2019.
Two different sources told News 4 that the Geraces are close friends with the Michalskis.
In fact, the judge married Gerace and his former wife, Katrina Nigro, in September 2014, according to the marriage certificate obtained by News 4 Investigates. The judge signed the certificate in two spots.
On the same day that Michalski was struck by a train, Gerace was arrested in Florida and charged with paying bribes to former DEA agent Joseph Bongiovanni, who was arrested in 2019 on several charges including accepting bribes.
It’s part of a larger probe of alleged organized crime, according to federal court documents. Gerace has told The Buffalo News he is not associated with any organized crime.
Both Gerace and Bongiovanni have pleaded not guilty in federal court.
Michalski has not been charged with any crime.
Redacted police report
News 4 Investigates received through a Freedom of Information law request the Village of Depew Police Department report of the Michalski incident, but it came heavily redacted. The village cited a privacy exemption to withhold the full video and heavily redact the incident report.
News 4 has appealed the decision to redact the police report.
Aaron Saykin, a media law attorney in Buffalo, told News 4 that once an appeal is denied, the only recourse is an Article 78 lawsuit that would boil down to a single question: Whether a reasonable person is going to find it objectionable and offensive to have that information or that record or that video released to the public?”
Paul Wolf, an attorney and president of the New York Coalition for Open Government, said the police incident report should not have been redacted.
“I think we have a public official in a public place,” Wolf said.
“I just don’t think that’s a basis for withholding the full police report. Every day police reports are released without what occurred redacted and the same should happen here.”
Michalski could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, Alex said he was shaken up by the incident.
More than two weeks after he caught the incident on camera, he said he has returned to trainspotting in the region but has not been back to the Depew Amtrak Station.
He told News 4 that he does often think about the judge and his health and wonders himself what led him to the train station that Sunday morning.
“I hope the guy is alright and is recovering,” he said.