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POLICE STORM HOME, FREE ROBBERY VICTIM

Three robbers terrorized a Cheektowaga man inside his apartment late Tuesday night, tying him up and taping his mouth shut, police said. But the victim's wife, sleeping upstairs, awoke and leapt from a window to escape -- breaking her ankle but managing to alert police.

Cheektowaga police stormed into the apartment, freed the man and chased one of the suspects -- a huge man estimated to weigh 400 pounds -- before finding him crouched outside the couple's Creekside Drive apartment.

Two of the three men involved in the home invasion remained at large late this morning after an extensive air and ground search that included the use of the Erie County sheriff's Air One helicopter.

According to police, the incident began shortly after 11:30 p.m., when Yaniero Espinosa, 32, returned to his Creekside Drive apartment in the Harlem-Clinton area and confronted the three men, who had broken into the apartment.

A struggle ensued, waking his wife, Janine Acosta, 25, who was in the upstairs bedroom. She jumped out the second-story window and went next door, where neighbors called police at 11:39 p.m.

Meanwhile, the three would-be robbers tied up Espinosa downstairs, police said. Responding to the initial call, Officers Anthony Filipski and Valentine Zimniewicz kicked in the front door.

"They found him (Espinosa) with his hands tied together and his mouth covered with duct tape," Lt. Cheryl Rucinski said today. When they pulled off the tape covering his mouth, Espinosa yelled "Gun!" and the officers chased one suspect to the back of the apartment.

Other officers arrested the man, identified as Juan Vazquez, 20, of Lackawanna, crouched between the couple's apartment and a neighbor's fence line. Police also recovered a knife.

Vazquez has been charged with first-degree robbery, assault and criminal possession of a weapon. Vazquez, who insisted he was acting alone, reportedly told police that he knew the couple had some money in the house. Investigators today said it was unclear whether he knew the couple.

Acosta was taken to St. Joseph Hospital, Cheektowaga, for treatment of a broken ankle, police said. Espinosa apparently was not injured seriously enough to receive medical treatment.

Police today were looking for two suspects: a Hispanic male, about 5 foot 6, and a tall, thin black man. Both were wearing dark clothing.

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