Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — It was an open and shut case. Or at least it was supposed to be.
Lockport Police found a man covered in blood, telling police his girlfriend Peggy Wright was stabbed to death in her bed. The man became the prime suspect, as he was covered in her blood and prior to the murder was using the knife in the kitchen.
Capt. Rick Podgers remembers working the crime scene, reading what had happened and noticed something. The person who had committed the murder had also severely cut himself. The suspect at the time did not have any wounds.
A little while later, police had ex-husband Thomas Wright in custody for the murder. He was supposed to be in parole in Texas, but was found in Grand Island.
With a severe cut to his hand.
”It was a huge case,” Podgers said.
With his law enforcement career minutes away from ending Monday afternoon, Podgers said the Wright case is one he’ll remember for a long time.
Memories and handshakes turned into tears and hugs Monday as the Lockport Police Department ceremonially walked Podgers, Lt. Scott Seekins and Lt. Dave Barrancotta out of the building and into their retirement as civilians. The three were surrounded and applauded by community members, fellow law enforcement, family and friends.
The three veteran officers are leaving with more than a combined 103 years of experience between them. And that’s not including Officer Joseph Brown, who retired a few weeks ago after 27 years with the department. He wasn’t present for the brief ceremony Monday.
Mired in fiscal turmoil, the City of Lockport’s 2014 budget calls for cutting 15 positions, four of which are police officers. But, the four early retirements and a department restructuring prevented the need for layoffs keeping the newer officers at LPD.
All of the retirees had no intention of leaving early, but they each made the decision in part because of a retirement incentive and because the move would help save the jobs of the cops with lower seniority, Lockport Police Chief Larry Eggert said.
”It really speaks to their character,” he said.
Officers will be promoted to replace Podgers, Seekins and Barrancotta. But, replacing the three of them will be challenging, Eggert said.
”That kind of experience can’t be replaced,” he said.
Eggert said Podgers has a knack for looking through a scene and being able to determine what took place.
Podgers was the first law enforcement officer in Niagara County to really embrace the technique of crime scene investigations, Eggert said. That includes using DNA, fingerprints and photography.
With his experience on the Niagara County Major Crime Strike Force, Podgers was the guy others in law enforcement would come to for crime scene investigation help, Eggert said.
Podgers, who became chief of detectives in 2007, estimated he had worked on about 40 homicides, closing all but three of them.
Aside from the Wright case, he said the work on the long, unsolved 1987 murder of Lockport woman Suzanne Korcz he’ll remember. The trail led to serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells who was on death row in Texas.
”We’ve had an excellent success rate,” Podgers, 60, said.
Seekins was the International Association of Chiefs of Police 2003 Officer of the Year. It was a national honor bestowed upon him for his actions in the February 2003 shooting rampage of Jason Kanalley, a six-hour event that started at a city bar and ended in the Woodlands trailer park on South Transit.
Kanalley shot one person on Feb. 8 and then showered the Niagara Hotel with bullets. Later that night in a standoff, Kanalley shot Eggert and officer Steve Ritchie. Armed with only a handgun, Seekins shot Kanalley in the foot, providing cover for his fellow officers until backup arrived.
A 30-year-veteran of the force, Seekins, 51, said being with the LPD was a great ride, working with countless professionals.
”I think that’s what I’ll miss the most,” Seekins said, adding that he didn’t have any immediate retirements plans.
For Barrancotta, who leaves LPD after 33-and-a-half years on the job, it was also a decision he made as a father. His son Daniel is the newest Lockport officer with the lowest seniority on the force.
Barrancotta, 55, was a former juvenile detective and an academy classmate of Eggert’s. He was most recently a lieutenant on the midnight shift.
”It hasn’t hit me yet,” Barrancotta said.
Seekins and Podgers were instrumental in keeping Lockport Police up-to-date technologically, Eggert said. Podgers, who spent 39 years, 11 months and two days with LPD, said the technology and electronic upgrades are probably the biggest changes he’s seen in his four decades of work.
During that time, LPD was able to move from black-and-white photographs to a semi-automated, full color system. The department’s radio system was upgraded, while cell block cameras were added in the city jail.
Patrol cars now have computers and software that give officers information quickly. That’s quite a step up from the 1970s, when the technology in the patrol cars were limited to a switch that turned on a single red light and another switch for the siren.
Eggert said all of the retirees are Lockport natives, making their careers a little more special. But while the changes Lockport Police have made will allow them to provide the same level of service with less people at less cost, the retirees will be missed, the chief said.
”These are quality people and I think the community was lucky to have them,” Eggert said. “They’re homegrown guys.”RETIRING LOCKPORT POLICE • Capt. Rick Podgers, 40 years • Lt. Scott Seekins, 30 years • Lt. Dave Barrancotta, 33.5 years • Officer Joseph Brown, 27 years Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.