Buffalo man Jay Withey known as ‘Merry Christmas Jay’ hailed hero for rescuing people in winter storm

A Buffalo man is being hailed a hero after saving 24 people during last week’s brutal snowstorm that dumped up to 50.3 inches in western New York.

Jay Withey’s truck got stuck on the road and was forced to sleep in his vehicle with two strangers.

“I walked to the houses to see if I could find shelter, any house that had lights on. I had $500 that I was offering, to sleep on their floor,” Withey told WBEN.

After being turned down by everyone, he walked back to his truck defeated and with a new fear he had never experienced.

“It’s the only time in my life I actually thought I was going to die.” 

Around 6 a.m. on Christmas Eve, and after taking turns running the engine and napping, Withey’s truck ran out of gas and was forced to find proper shelter.

“Off to the left, I could see there was a school about 600-700 feet away from us. I knew the power would be on, there would be heat in there and I was guaranteeing there would be food in there,” Withey told the station.

Security camera footage of Withey.
Cheektowaga Police Department
The group used the cafeteria as their sleeping and dinning area.
The group used the cafeteria as their sleeping and dining area.
Cheektowaga Police Department

After quick thinking, Withey identified others around him who were also stranded and decided to break into the school.

Withey and his crew, a total of 25, including seven senior citizens people, made their way into Pine Hill Primary Center and took shelter — respectfully setting up only what was needed. They set up their main area in the cafeteria, helping themselves only to the food they needed and nothing in the fully stocked freezer, according to police.

As the storm began to move away from the area late Christmas Day and everyone ready to leave, “Merry Christmas Jay” found the school’s snowblower and cleared all the vehicles that belonged to his survival pact.

Before leaving, Withey fixed up the broken window using cardboard and duct tape and left a note apologizing for breaking into the school.

“To whomever it may concern, I’m terribly sorry about breaking the school window and fore breaking in the kitchen,” the letter wrote. “I had to do it to save everyone and get them shelter and food and a bathroom. Merry Christmas Jay.”

School officials and the police department were notified of the window breaking and after the roads were safe a police officer checked out the school and found the note which led them to view security camera footage.

The note Withey left at the school.
The note Withey left at the school.
Cheektowaga Police Department

The Cheektowaga Police Department sent out a tweet asking for assistance to find the hero. After several hours of searching, police assured Withey will not face any charges but may face the thankfulness of a grateful community

Withey said the survival group is now a family and is planning a summer get-together.

“This group of amazing people took care of each other and the building they found shelter in,” police said.