BY BILL WOLCOTT
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Ten years ago today, three Lockport police officers experienced an ordeal that forever links them and continues to haunt them.
The event began when an unstable man opened fire in a city tavern on Feb. 8, 2003 and ended several hours later in a Town of Lockport trailer park with two city officers wounded and the assailant dead after a flurry of gunfire.
K-9 officer Steven D. Ritchie was shot three times and was revived four times by paramedics enroute to the hospital. Capt. Lawrence Eggert was shot in the back, the bullet smashing bones in his shoulder. Lt. Scott Seekins exchanged fire with the shooter and was credited with saving the lives of his brother officers.
It was a national story and Seekins was named 2003 Police Officer of the Year by Parade Magazine and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
”I know how hard (Scott) was working to save our lives,” Ritchie said this week. “If he (Seekins) wasn’t there, we would have been executed. There is no doubt in my mind, we would not be alive today. His award was well deserved.”
Niagara County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Kevin Mack was also under fire and his patrol car was sprayed with bullets. Mack was named the 2003 Deputy of the Year by the New York State Sheriff’s Association.
The shooter, who was armed with an AK-47 assault weapon, got off dozens of shots during the ordeal. Jason Kanalley, 26, of Park Place took his own life around 5 a.m., six hours after it all started.
It is not an anniversary the officers celebrate. Emotional scars, along with the physical ones, remain.
• “I deal with post-traumatic stuff,” Ritchie said.
• “Sometimes at 3 in the morning I wake up with a cold sweat,” said Eggert, who is now Lockport’s police chief.
• “It’s a nightmare that will never stop,” Seekins said.
The city’s snowy shootout started Feb. 8, 2003 shortly after 11 p.m. — a Saturday night at a busy Niagara Hotel at 58 North Transit St. — and ended at a Transit Road trailer park at 5 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9.
Kanalley had fired his assault weapon at a man whose girlfriend Kanalley had once dated. He then fled.
Seekins, who had just been promoted to Detective Lieutenant, was off-duty at 11 p.m., but everyone was summoned for the shooting call. Seekins’ role was to collect evidence. He took several pictures inside the establishment. “The Niagara Hotel was all shot up inside. I was collecting bullet fragments and bullet casings,” he said. “There were people at all the tables and they never got shot.”
Most of the city’s officers ended up going to the site of the rampage, but the whereabouts of the shooter was unknown. It was snowing and weather conditions deteriorated into the night.
It was learned later that Kanalley may have parked his Pontiac Sunfire at Wilson Farms a short block away, watching police perform their investigation and planning another assault. Seekins said, “In a post-interview with a witness, he considered coming back to the scene.”
Transit Street, considered part of the crime scene, was closed.
After collecting evidence, Seekins returned to the police station, just around the corner from the Niagara Hotel, while detectives gathered information from the woman at the bar whose boyfriend had been targeted. They learned that Kanalley may have been on Wicks Road in Wrights Corners. State Police and Niagara County Sheriffs deputies joined in the manhunt, but the suspect wasn’t located at the Wrights Corners address.
Information was coming in from several sources. “It was frustrating because we were playing cat-and-mouse trying to catch up with him,” Seekins recalled.
A woman who was with Kanalley gave solid information that the shooter might be in the southeast part of the city and the police followed up.
At 4 a.m. officer Michael Stover located Kanalley’s car traveling on Beattie Avenue but couldn’t keep up with him. “Slow speed and weather conditions dictated,” Seekins explained. “Kanalley did well because he had four studded snow tires and his front-wheel drive car.”
The police cars were full-size Crown Victorias, but the rear-wheel drive offered limited traction in the snow.
Police began a parallel pursuit, with most cars heading south on Beattie Avenue while Lt. Seekins and Capt. Eggert went south on Transit in a separate vehicle. Seekins was driving.
The convoy took the Old Beattie Road route into the Woodlands trailer park. Seekins and Eggert chose to go into the southern entrance of the Woodlands, near the NOCO station on Transit Road.
”We pulled in there and stopped,” Seekins said. “Presumably, he could come right at us, and that’s exactly what happened.”
The cops and Kanalley passed each other and the policemen took cover in order not to be exposed to the windows. Kanalley had an AK-47 with hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
”We turned around to tail him, hoping other units would catch up, but the other cars (coming from Old Beattie) lost track of him,” Seekins said.
Kanalley pulled into the NOCO station, spun his car around and aimed it at the police. “He pulled out and tried to T-bone us but he missed. He nearly went into the ditch himself,” Seekins said.
Kanalley appeared to be going back toward the city, but instead turned into the adjacent Village Mobile Home Park.
Stover came out of the Woodlands and joined the chase into the Village. Eggert and Seekins were in one car, Stover in another and Ritchie was in the K-9 SUV with Blesk.
Eggert directed Seekins to stop. Kanalley was making faster headway through the curvy streets. It was snowing so hard there were nearly whiteouts and Kanalley disappeared on one of the side streets.
As Eggert was about to order to shut down the trailer park, Kanalley re-emerged, from the street on which he had disappeared.
”As he turned I could see flashes coming through his windshield,” Seekins said. “I yelled, ‘get out.’ My cell got shot. It was on the dashboard.”
The cell phone hit Seekins as he was getting out. The phone took a bullet on the No. 7 key, but still worked. “How I never got shot, I’ll never know,” Seekins said. The bullet holes in the windshield indicated Kanalley’s bullets would have hit the new Detective Lieutenant in the throat.
While Seekins was running for cover behind the patrol car, Kanalley slammed the car door with his bumper. At the same time, Eggert was hit by a bullet while escaping out of the passenger door.
Ritchie recalled, “I saw headlights coming at me and there were gun shots. He was shooting at Scott Seekins and Larry Eggert’s car. They bailed out and went to cover. He was blasting away and I ducked down. He rammed my car head on.” The collision broke Ritchie’s jaw and he lost several teeth.
Kanalley, who had removed the stock from his AK-47, was resting the gun on the dash and shooting through his windshield. One of the bullets was fired into a patrol car, lodging in the alternator.
”He wanted to go out in blaze of glory and take a cop with him,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie hoped to take cover, but was hit by bullets coming through the windshield as he laid across the seat. “The shot went through my lung and I couldn’t breath. I laid on the ground and played dead. I was trying to catch my breath. I couldn’t breathe.”
Ritchie sustained three gunshot wounds, two in the legs and one in the chest. Remarkably, his German shepherd, K-9 Blesk, was unharmed despite the volley of shots.
Seekins kept firing and tried to get help for his friends. “He (Kanalley) faded back into the shadows. He was in dark clothing in the shadows,” Seekins said. “I was in dark clothing in the white snow under a street light, so he had the advantage.”
Seekins was unable to retrieve his shotgun from the car, and was armed only with his handgun. “One of my rounds hit him in the foot; put him down,” Seekins said.
”At this point the calvary was coming,” Ritchie said. “He (Kanalley) was getting nervous and went into the wooded area.”
Among the “calvary” was Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Kevin Mack. He was pulling into the trailer park when he heard the words on his police radio: “Officer down.”
A year after the encounter, Mack recounted for the US&J what happened next. First, he threw a set of road spikes across the entrance and began his approach with his patrol car’s lights turned off.
Soon, he saw a “single subject” walking about 50 yards from the scene. It was dark, the subject wasn’t running and Mack was not sure if he was looking at the gunman or another police officer. That’s when Kanalley turned and fired his assault rifle.
”He disabled my patrol car with the second shot,” Mack recalled. The deputy threw open his door, reached his hand out on the windshield and ducked down, firing nine rounds.
Kanalley dropped to the ground. “I’m thinking, naturally, ‘I hit him.’ “ Mack, who had never before fired his gun except in training, said.
After all the gunplay, Kanalley pointed his AK-47 to his head and fired. But before killing himself, Kanalley had words for Seekins.
”He used some curse words when I shot him in the foot,” Seekins said. “He asked why I hadn’t shot him in the head. I’m not sure why he asked me that.”
The detective wasn’t proud of hitting Kanalley in the foot. “We aim to terminate the threat,” he said.
Kanalley’s body was found with a gunshot to the head. He was wearing a camouflage jacket, blue jeans and boots.
The South Lockport Ambulance was on the scene waiting to transport the injured officers. On the way to Erie County Medical Center, Ritchie was said to have died four times and was resuscitated. “They were just squeezing bags of blood in me,” he said. “The doctors were surprised I was able to survive,” he said.
One of his legs was nearly blown off, the other leg had a broken bone. One shot severed nerves in his arm. It’s something Ritchie deals with every day. Each year it gets a little worse, he said.
Eggert and Ritchie were treated at the ECMC intensive care unit. Ritchie was in intensive care for a week and spent five weeks in the hospital. Rods were installed in his legs, and he spent nearly a year and a half in intense therapy.
At Officer of the Year ceremonies, Eggert said, “Without Scott being there, I’d be dead, and so would Steve. I mean, he threw himself down between me and Jason. If there’s a hero out there, it’s Scott, even if he doesn’t like being called one.”