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Andolina in running for recognition as 'America's Most Wanted All-Star'

Police Officer Carl E. Andolina has become a hero to all of Buffalo since the night he and his partner, Patricia A. Parete, were shot by a teenage gunman.

Andolina grabbed the gunman, wrestled him to the ground with his bare hands, even as the teenager continued to fire his gun, striking Andolina twice.

Now, the 41-year-old Buffalo cop has a chance at being nationally recognized for his selfless bravery.

Andolina is one of eight "All-Star" finalists for FOX TV's "America's Most Wanted." Whoever gets the most votes will be awarded $10,000 at a special presentation at the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series in North Carolina on May 19.

Voting began today and will continue until May 8, said "America's Most Wanted" producer Steve Katz.

There are two ways to vote. People can log on to www.amw.com/allstar to vote online, or they can use their Sprint or Nextel phones to text in their votes to 4AMW. The code corresponding to the finalists should be available by checking the show's Web site.

Participants can vote once a day, every day, until May 8.

The contest has been enormously popular, Katz said, with "tens of thousands" of people casting their votes throughout the nomination process.

Andolina is up against some stiff competition, including a Georgia sheriff's deputy left legally blind in a shooting in 1990 who now trains officers in safety measures; a Missouri sheriff who helped find a kidnapped newborn; and an Illinois police sergeant who survived being shot in the face with a shotgun.

Andolina was on patrol with Parete on the night of Dec. 5, looking for thieves trying to break into cars around the Chippewa District, when they got word of some sort of trouble at a nearby gas station.

As they approached, they learned about a young man who had made a threat to a woman and they tracked down the suspect about a block away.

As Andolina told the young man, later identified as Varner Harris Jr., to empty his pockets, he pulled out a .38-caliber revolver.

Two shots struck Parete. One hit her bulletproof vest; the other, her chin. That bullet traveled through her jaw and into her spine, leaving her with paralyzing injuries.

Without a second to spare to unholster his weapon, Andolina -- famous among his fellow officers for his bearlike stature -- grabbed Harris with his bare hands.

Harris kept shooting, police said. One bullet hit Andolina in the shoulder; another went over his shoulder; and a third hit him the back of his neck.

Despite his wounds, Andolina refused to let go and rolled his body on top of the teen. He later described how he could hear the clicking as the gunman kept firing the empty weapon.

Andolina managed to hold on until backup could arrive.

The officer's first request was for an ambulance -- for Parete.

"She needs help," he said. "Somebody help her."

Many of his fellow officers said that Andolina, who was quickly released from the hospital, was deeply upset that he hadn't done more to protect his partner.

Andolina found a way to help. He has championed efforts to raise money for Parete, who has been undergoing grueling physical therapy at the same New Jersey rehab facility where the late "Superman" actor Christopher Reeve underwent treatment. She has devoted herself to restoring her mobility.

Other Buffalonians are planning fundraisers for Parete.

Saturday, police officers and firefighters will face off in what's being billed as "The Ultimate Event," a charity challenge that will pit the city's first responders against each other.

The event, open to the public, begins at 2:30 p.m. at Village Maria College, 240 Pine Ridge Road, Cheektowaga. Organizers are asking for a small donation at the door.

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com

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