An Army veteran of the Iraq War from Clarence who was studying at the University of Kansas with hopes of pursuing a career in the Judge Advocate General's Corps died Saturday afternoon, several hours after an apparent altercation, according to police in Lawrence, Kan.
Funeral services for Nicholas J. Sardina, 27, will be held at 10 a.m. Friday in Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church on Harris Hill Road, Clarence.
Authorities in Kansas are trying to piece together the events that led to his death.
"It's been tough," said David B. Forsyth Jr., Sardina's stepfather who, when reached Tuesday evening, declined to discuss what led to the death. "We're going to leave that to the police."
Lawrence Police Investigations Capt. Mike Pattrick said Sardina was found shortly after 1 p.m. after police and medical crews were called to a home near the University of Kansas campus, following a report of an unresponsive male. Sardina couldn't be revived and was pronounced dead at the residence.
"Preliminary investigation indicates Mr. Sardina was involved in a physical altercation and injured several hours before in the 300 block of West 14th Street in Lawrence," Pattrick said.
"Detectives, officers and the coroner are investigating to see if the altercation contributed in any way to Mr. Sardina's death."
Pattrick said police have identified "many of the people involved in the altercation," but no arrests had been made as of Tuesday. According to reports, police were not called to the scene.
Sardina's girlfriend, identified as Darcy Singleton, told the Lawrence Journal-World that Sardina apparently had been at a house party on West 14th Street. He had texted her around 3:45 a.m. Saturday and reported that he had been in "a scuffle" and had "a bottle broken over his head," Singleton told the newspaper.
Sardina was a Clarence High School graduate who enlisted in the Army in 2005, Forsyth told The News. He was a cavalry scout with Echo Troop 4th Cavalry, 2nd Brigade Recon Troop, 1st Infantry Division, and had served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 and 2007.
He was honorably discharged from the Army in 2008 and began his studies at Kansas State University, where he spent two years before transferring to the University of Kansas in Lawrence. There, he majored in political science, his stepfather said.
"He served his country proudly," Forsyth said, adding that Sardina continued his military service in Kansas, serving as a corporal-specialist with the Kansas National Guard while in school. "He was a tremendous person. When he was your friend, he was your friend until the end."
Forsyth said family members had just spoken with him by phone last week after the Feb. 20 death of Forsyth's father, David B. Forsyth, a Navy veteran of the Korean War and former Cheektowaga police officer, with whom Sardina was close.
"He said he couldn't come up for the funeral," Forsyth recalled. "He said school was good."
A "huge Sabres fan," Sardina also played both ice hockey and in-line hockey in Kansas.
Jerry Remsbecker, coach of the Kansas State In-line Hockey Club, posted an online tribute to Sardina, calling him "a great man, a decent hockey player and a good friend."
"He will be missed," Remsbecker said.
Family members remembered Sardina for "his compassionate, kind heart, contagious smile and twinkling eyes."
Besides Forsyth, Sardina is survived by his mother, Kathleen; father, Joseph T.; sister, Samantha Forsyth; two brothers, David III and Ian Forsyth; and his grandparents, John M. Coveny Sr. and June and Jack Kurczewski.