For more than a year, Town of Tonawanda police were Peter I. Kinnin's connection for help.
They responded to numerous calls for assistance from the Chelsea Street residence Kinnin shared with his fiancee, town police officials said Tuesday.
Believing that Kinnin had alcohol and emotional problems, the officers often wound up making arrangements to have the 32-year-old man taken by ambulance to Erie County Medical Center.
At about 8 p.m. Thursday, three officers thought that the same routine would play out.
But it didn't.
Police shot Kinnin to death as he lunged from hiding in a darkened alcove off the kitchen of 297 Chelsea and slashed one of the officers three times, narrowly missing his heart, authorities said.
The attack happened so fast that there was no time to try to wrestle the knife from Kinnin, a top police official said, adding that Lt. Jerome C. Uschold was barely able to fend off the weapon.
"That's how he was cut in the left hand, trying to ward off the knife. They never had a chance," Assistant Police Chief Robert J. Rowland said Tuesday in explaining that the officers had no time or opportunity to physically try to disarm Kinnin.
In the brief encounter, the officers ordered Kinnin to stop and drop the knife.
"It was a very tight area with no place to go," Rowland said of the kitchen.
Believing that they were in danger, Uschold and Officer Daniel L. Walbesser drew their 9mm semi-automatic handguns and fired several times.
Police officials think four shots were fired but still were investigating to come up with an exact number. Five shell casings were found at the scene, indicating five shots were discharged, according to Erie County District Attorney Kevin M. Dillon.
An hour after the shooting, Kinnin was pronounced dead in Erie County Medical Center. Results of an autopsy showing how many times Kinnin had been shot have not been released, but his fiancee told a neighbor that she believed that he had been hit three times.
Officer Robert Goetz, the third officer, did not fire his handgun because he was behind the other two and therefore not in immediate danger, according to police officials.
"He was trying to contain the fiancee so she wouldn't jump into the middle of it. He was protecting her from Kinnin," Police Chief Samuel M. Palmiere said.
Uschold, as acting captain that night, decided to assist the other officers who were responding to the Chelsea Street call. On several occasions, Uschold had gone to the house when calls for assistance were received, and he figured that a familiar
face among the officers might ease the situation, officials said.
Kinnin's family members have said little about the death, but his father spoke briefly Tuesday. When asked whether his son had a problem with alcohol, David Kinnin said:
"I'm really not sure. Neither myself nor my wife is sure."
Kinnin, in his 911 call, had threatened to harm himself and had told police he had sent his fiancee, Laverne Fallon, from the house so he would not hurt her.
The officers entered the home and began searching it.
"They were calling him by name. Jerry felt he would be able to deal with the guy. He figured the guy would recognize him," Rowland said.
A police official familiar with the case said the knife slash to Uschold's bulletproof vest narrowly missed his heart.
"That knife would have gotten into the lieutenant's heart if he hadn't been wearing the breastplate (metal insert) in the bulletproof vest," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
Although town police officials say they do not know what prompted Kinnin to attack the officers, they think that he had drinking and emotional problems and was intoxicated that evening.
A statement given by Ms. Fallon to authorities supports the claim that Kinnin had emotional problems. "Her statement clearly indicates he had a history of being emotionally disturbed. That's according to her," Dillon said.
Rowlandsaid of Kinnin:
"He's been through a series of organizations and facilities that have dealt with him. He's been treated, and, to my knowledge, it's always been on a voluntary basis.
"Whatever his problems were, it's too bad they couldn't have been resolved."