Two senior citizens who witnessed a roadside struggle between an Amherst man and an Erie County sheriff's deputy trying to arrest him last week in Holland said they were not thinking about their age when they decided to jump into the fray and grab the man's arms.
Robert Woodruff, 82, and his son-in-law, Lester Lehnis, 72, both of East Aurora, were driving along Olean Road when they saw Deputy Bradford Ballantyne struggling to arrest the man Thursday night. The men -- who have a total of 15 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren -- ran to Ballantyne's aid.
"We didn't do any big thing," Woodruff said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "We just got his hands together so (Ballantyne) could handcuff him. Those things you do without thinking. If we thought about our age, we may not have been able to do it."
Police said Christopher M. Noreck, 22, of Amherston Drive, was driving south on Olean Road about 6:30 p.m. when he was stopped by Ballantyne and charged with tailgating and a window-tint violation. According to sheriff's officials, Noreck attacked Ballantyne and swung his elbows around, nearly striking the deputy, who was trying to handcuff him.
Lehnis, his wife, Diane, 48, and Woodruff were heading south on Olean Road to go shopping when they saw the altercation.
"We saw a problem and we thought we could help, so we jumped right in," Lehnis said. "The sheriff had him up on the side of the police car in a hold, so we got ahold of his arms and brought it around so he could handcuff him."
Lehnis said he never thought twice about stepping in to help.
"I just thought, 'Goodness, gracious, we've got to stop this,' " he said. "I could never just drive by because I'd have a guilty conscience. We had to do something."
Noreck was charged with possession of marijuana and cocaine, along with attempted assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, false impersonation, obstructing justice, driving under the influence of drugs, aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle and numerous other traffic-related violations. Noreck, who had 29 suspensions on his license, was released last month from Wyoming County Jail after serving a 120-day sentence for driving while ability-impaired, police said.
Woodruff and Lehnis were uninjured, but Ballantyne suffered a knee abrasion and strains to his elbow and wrist. He was treated in Bertrand Chaffee Hospital in Springville and later returned to duty.
Woodruff and Lehnis, who are neighbors in the same mobile home park, have each been retired for more than 10 years and spend their days talking, relaxing and meeting each morning for coffee. Woodruff, a former stationary engineer at Buffalo's Nabisco plant, said that at 225 pounds, he is in decent physical shape but jokingly admitted he's "a little pot-bellied." Lehnis, at 271 pounds, decribed himself as "no pushover."
"I'm hunky spunky," said Lehnis, a former worker on East Aurora's water and sewer systems. "I'm in pretty good shape."
Lehnis offered this piece of advice to other senior citizens who find themselves in a similar situation.
"You should always be able to help someone," he said. "Don't turn your back on anyone in need. Never mind how old you are."