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Man killed by deputy had arsenal

Thomas A. Dodge had a drunken-driving conviction and was charged last year with endangering the welfare of a child, but he was largely unknown to police until late Wednesday.

His penchant for weapons became clear after a sheriff's deputy shot him dead outside a former girlfriend's Grand Island home, then discovered he had two guns and two pipe bombs.

His 10th-floor condo in Niagara Falls did plenty of talking, too.

Police said they found an arsenal that included SKS and AK47 assault rifles, and a Ruger 1022 that had been sawed off just enough to make it street legal. There also were at least 10 pipe bombs and a Colt 223 -- the civilian version of the military M16.

And there were thousands of rounds of ammunition, including some "that would've cut through a policeman's vest like butter," said Detective Lt. Nicholas A. Paonessa of the Niagara Falls Police Department.

Some of the ammunition had been freshly loaded into a waist pack.

All the weapons were legal, Paonessa said, except for about a dozen martial-arts throwing stars.

Police spent Thursday trying to make sense of an incident that ended when Erie County Sheriff's Deputy Thomas Meredith shot and killed Dodge in a yard across the street from the home of Dodge's father, Darryl, on Crescent Road.

"He's been completely off the radar," Paonessa said. "If there is anything [aside from the weapons], we're not aware of it yet.

"When you deal with psychological problems, they don't necessarily have a criminal history until something like this comes to light."

Trouble first surfaced Wednesday, when Dodge's father sought help from the mother of Dodge's 2-year-old son, after he learned Dodge had not shown up to work for a few days.

The woman, whose name was unavailable, dropped Dodge off at the father's home. Darryl Dodge then called 911 at about 10 p.m. to report his son was trying to commit suicide by ingesting ethanol.

When Deputy Meredith arrived, Dodge was across the street at the home of Tami Trottnow, his former girlfriend. Trottnow, 26, fled, and Dodge -- revolver in hand chased her, shooting her three times, in the elbow, shoulder and buttocks.

Meredith fired 10 rounds at Dodge while ordering him to drop his weapon, Erie County Sheriff's Patrol Chief Dennis Rankin said.

Dodge kept shooting at Trottnow as Meredith again ordered him to drop the gun, Rankin said, and it was at that point that the deputy fired the fatal shot into Dodge's chest.

Dodge, 30, was pronounced dead at the scene. Trottnow was treated for gunshot wounds in Erie County Medical Center and released Thursday afternoon.

Meredith, 37, a five-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, had never before fired his gun on duty, Sheriff Timothy B. Howard said, except possibly to kill an injured deer. Meredith received a sheriff's award in 2004 for twice persuading suicidal or mentally unstable people not to harm themselves.

Howard said Dodge's father told deputies he understood why Meredith shot his son.

"That would be very comforting to the deputy," the sheriff added.

Dodge's father also told deputies his son had a history of troubled relationships that ended in breakups. Niagara Falls police said Dodge had been charged with endangering the welfare of a child late last year in a case that involved another woman but would not share more details.

Trottnow told a detective she didn't think her relationship with Dodge, whose pistol permit was revoked Jan. 20, 2005, because of a DWI conviction, was serious enough to warrant such a violent reaction. Their two-month relationship ended Monday, deputies were told.

Neighbors, shaken by the development, were evacuated from their homes until the early morning hours Thursday.

It also puzzled Dodge's former co-workers.

For the past seven years, Dodge worked at Capitol Cleaners, 1227 Main St., Niagara Falls.

Owner Joseph A. Petrozzi said Dodge hadn't shown up to work since Saturday, and attempts to contact him Monday were unsuccessful.

Some of the staff became troubled because of the way Dodge replied to some text messages before the violent outburst, Petrozzi said. While Petrozzi did not know the specific contents of the messages, he said Dodge's co-workers could tell something was wrong.

Petrozzi said his son, Russell, went with Dodge's father to the condo, owned by Petrozzi, to check on his welfare. They never made it inside because Dodge had changed the locks.

In his office Thursday, Petrozzi said he was devastated about what happened to Dodge, whom he described as intelligent and always willing to help.

"You couldn't find a nicer person," Petrozzi said. "He never had a bad word to say about anybody."

Niagara Falls police woke up everyone on the 10th floor of the Parkway Condominiums at 4 a.m. Thursday, telling them they had to evacuate. Among the cache of pipe bombs and long guns police said they found in Dodge's condo was a high-powered weapon set up like a sniper rifle.

Paonessa, of the Niagara Falls police, said he was relieved Dodge never made it back there.

"This guy had enough ammunition," the detective said, "to hold off an army."

News Staff Reporter Gene Warner and Nancy A. Fischer of the News Niagara Bureau contributed to this report.


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