Buffalo cop Jackie Sullivan walked into Detective Dennis Delano's office Thursday morning, wrapped her arms around him and said, "You're my hero."
It is doubtful that Delano gets many hugs from attractive blondes. First, he is married. Second, his resemblance is -- appropriately -- less to Brad Pitt than to Andy Sipowicz, the beloved "NYPD Blue" detective. With ample girth and the map lines of 26 years of street experience creasing his face, Delano admits he is not leading-man material.
But this was one hug he deserved. Indeed, he took it for the whole team.
Our communal arms should be wrapped around the dozen cops, including Delano, from different places who worked as one. The Bike Path Rapist Task Force -- elite cops from Buffalo, Amherst, the county and State Police -- ignored turf and put egos aside. Two months after coming together, they put in handcuffs Monday a suspected murderer/rapist accused of victimizing women for decades.
Police say DNA evidence links Altemio C. Sanchez to three homicides and five sexual assaults over the past 20 years.
It was Delano, from Buffalo's cold-case squad, who noticed it: The first attack linked to the Bike Path Killer/Rapist was a 1986 assault in Delaware Park. After that, he left the park. Delano thought it didn't make sense, a one-stop from a rapist notorious for multiple assaults in certain areas.
"That stuck out for me," said Delano. "I started digging into [earlier] rapes in the park."
He found a half-dozen. He shared the files with task force head Steve Nigrelli, Josh Keats and Greg Savage. Similarities to the Bike Path Rapist stuck out.
"[Similar] description and methodology, same verbiage used [with the victims]," said Nigrelli.
They targeted an unsolved 1981 case, where the victim saw her attacker days later and jotted down the car's license plate number. The 1981 investigation dead-ended. Twenty-five years later, Detective Al Rozansky tracked down the car owner. He told Rozansky what he held back in '81: His nephew drove the car.
The nephew: Altemio Sanchez.
The name was familiar to other task force cops. One suspected "bike path" murder victim was a prostitute. A list of Hispanics interviewed in the "bike path" case had been cross-referenced with Hispanics arrested for soliciting Buffalo prostitutes. Bingo on Sanchez.
"We were like, 'Holy bleep,' " Rozansky said. "That's the same name the other [guys] are looking at."
Different roads led to the same place.
"Before the task force, no [single police agency] had all of the pieces," said Buffalo cop Lisa Redmond. "Once everyone got together, it just popped."
"I felt," said leader Nigrelli, "like the quarterback of an all-star team."
Team member Rozansky returned the compliment.
"We had supervisors [Nigrelli and Scott Patronik] who didn't micromanage," Rozansky said.
"Otherwise," added Delano, chuckling, "we would have killed each other."
There was another hug in this case, besides the one Delano got. Two days after Sanchez's arrest, the victim of the 1994 assault walked into the task force downtown offices. She embraced each one of them: Nigrelli, Keats, Chris Weber and Betsy Schneider (State Police); Patronik, Savage, Rozansky and Greg McCarthy (Sheriff's Office); Buffalo cops Delano and Redmond and Amherst cops Joe LaCorte and Ed Monan.
"She and [the other victims] are why we all worked the hunt so hard," Rozansky said.
They did it for all of the women he hurt. They did it for all of the women he, if still free, could have hurt.
Thanks, to all of them.