The Barnes Firm to forge ahead, begin operations next Monday after death of Steve Barnes

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Barnes Firm will move forward and begin operating on October 12th, as scheduled, after the death of Steve Barnes. Barnes and his niece, Elizabeth, died Friday when their plane crashed just outside the Village of Corfu in Genesee County.

“We’re driven to honor his legacy,” said Robert Schreck, the managing attorney at The Barnes Firm. “It’s a motivating factor in what we do.”

Schreck worked with Barnes for about 17 years at Cellino and Barnes. After that firm split up, he decided to follow Barnes to The Barnes Firm. The two spoke every day, including Thursday, which was the day before Barnes died.

“We are more than ready to go, and that was our conversation on Thursday,” Schreck said. “He was very excited about it. He was excited about the upcoming weekend, because it was his mom’s 90th birthday. That was the purpose of his flight to go pick up Elizabeth Barnes to fly her back home.”

“The excitement was palpable. It was a great day. It was a great day Thursday,” he added.

Steve Barnes wasn’t the only person on that flight with a legal mind. Elizabeth Barnes, a graduate of the George Washington University Law Schol, did as well.

“Here’s someone who tried to do good, while respecting the law and making sure that everyone respected the law,” said Alberto Benitez, a professor at the school, director of the its immigration clinic, and himself a native Western New Yorker.

“Western New Yorkers tend to gravitate to Western New Yorkers,” Benitez added.

Perhaps that’s why they stayed in touch after Elizabeth graduated. They were last texting on September 27th, during the Bills game against the Rams. They shared anxiety during the Bills last offensive drive, which culminated in a game winning touchdown.

“She was a big, huge fan of Josh Allen,” Benitez said. “So you can imagine how happy she was.”

Benitez is happy to talk about Elizabeth Barnes, and remember her as a student who stood out.

“She gave me a gift, which is a coaster of Bishop Timon High School, which I have on my desk,” he said. “I haven’t been back to my office since Thursday. I’m going back (Tuesday). I’m not very happy about going back to see that coaster because it will remind me, in a sad way of Elizabeth.

“But in a happy way, it will remind me of her as well.”

The flight Friday was from New Hampshire to Buffalo. In a statement late Sunday night, the NTSB said the plane hit the ground “nose first” and was “highly fragmented”. Monday afternoon, Genesee County Sheriff William Sheron said all of the wreckage had been removed from the scene. It will be taken to a facility in Springfield, Tenn. to be examined by a team organized by the NTSB.

In a separate statement Monday, the NTSB defended their decision not to send investigators directly to the crash site. The agency made the decision due to COVID-19 related concerns. It led to criticism from Reps. Brian Higgins and Chris Jacobs, who sent the NTSB a letter Sunday expressing their disappointment.

Schreck also had an opinion on the decision.

“They have their justifications for it. But yes, we’re disappointed. But not angry,” he said.

“Our investigation of this crash does not rely solely upon our physical presence at the crash site, in fact, on-scene activities are but one portion of the many necessary to our investigative process,” NTSB Deputy Director of Regional Operations Tim LeBaron said in the Monday statement.

The NTSB also pointed out they sent aviation investigators to the scene of just 221 out of 1,310 aviation accidents they investigated last year.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.

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