Friends and neighbors describe 88-year-old "Marty" Turkiewicz as a loving husband, devoted caretaker and friendly neighbor — so they're having a hard time grasping the reports he attacked his 86-year-old wife with a hammer Saturday at Garden Gate Health Care Facility on Union Road.
Authorities charged Martin J. Turkiewicz of Cheektowaga with attempted murder and assault in what the nursing home's operator called "a domestic incident."
Police say he struck Rita T. Turkiewicz, his wife of 60 years, in the head, causing severe head injuries. She remains at Erie County Medical Center where she has been taken out of ICU.
"As far as I'm concerned, the man didn’t have a bad bone in his body," said Daniel Zelasko of Cheektowaga, who has known him for 15 years.
They got to know each other in the pinochle club that plays on Monday nights in the hall at Resurrection Catholic Church on Como Park Boulevard.
Zelasko had previously talked to Turkiewicz about his sick wife, and he knew his friend faced a tough time caring for his wife, as well as a son who is blind.
Turkiewicz had been adamant he would care for his wife and not put her in a nursing home, Zelasko said.
"His wife was first before anything else," he said. "And that's a fact."
Turkiewicz called a priest to his home a month ago to visit his sick wife, who was resting in a bed in the living room.
The couple's Cheektowaga home was also where Turkiewicz cared for their son, friends and neighbors said.
Rita Turkiewicz has dealt with difficult health issues for the last several years, and had been in the Cheektowaga nursing home for rehabilitation.
Early Saturday evening, staff of the Garden Gate Health Care Facility heard some noise. Then Martin Turkiewicz walked to the front desk to alert them about what happened.
Martin Turkiewicz is being held in the Erie County Holding Center on charges of second-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault. Authorities have not said anything about his motive for the attack.
Esther Branka lived across the street from the Turkiewiczes on Rosemead Lane for 52 years until she moved earlier this year. Her husband, Ronald, who recently died, and Martin Turkiewicz were close friends.
Rita Turkiewicz has been ill, but she and her husband always appeared to be a happy couple, Branka said.
Branka said her husband used to help snowblow the Turkiewiczes' driveway, and Martin Turkiewicz would come over and visit her husband when he was sick.
Branka called him a "very friendly man."
She considered him a good neighbor and friend.
"He was such a wonderful man," she said. "I'm still in a state of shock."
Debbie Jasinski of Depew used to work with Rita Turkiewicz at the J.C. Penney store at the former Thruway Mall nearly three decades ago. Rita Turkiewicz retired when the store closed.
Jasinski, who now works at the J.C. Penney in the Walden Galleria, said she would see the couple when they came into the store. Jasinski said she last saw the Turkiewiczes together a couple years ago and last saw Martin Turkiewicz in the store seven or eight months ago.
Martin Turkiewicz was his wife's caregiver for many years, Jasinski said. Whenever she saw him, he always spoke lovingly about his wife.
He called her "my Rita," Jasinski said.
"We've always had such beautiful conversations about Rita," Jasinski said.
The Turkiewiczes have been longtime parishioners of Resurrection Catholic Church.
The Rev. Conrad P. Stachowiak, the church's pastor, said Martin Turkiewicz called him to perform the Catholic sacrament of anointing of the sick for his wife at their home about a month ago. Martin Turkiewicz comes to Mass regularly, Stachowiak said.
"We're very distressed over the whole thing," he said.