Buffalo Police Officer Martin Forero charged into an East Side house, responding to a burglary-in-progress call.
He stopped abruptly on the top basement step where he found the cellar under more than 5 feet of water.
Just wait and watch, Forero’s instincts told him.
It didn’t take long for two waterlogged burglars to break the surface, gasping for air.
At 5-foot, 5-inches, Forero knew the water would be up to his neck, so he summoned Richard Lopez, his 6-foot, 2-inch tall patrol partner and asked him to take a dip and handcuff the suspects.
Lopez, in recalling the incident, chuckled, saying it was the only time Forero pulled out the short card.
“Marty said, ‘I can’t go down there, I might drown,’ Lopez said. “Marty’s got a heart of gold that’s 7 feet tall. He’s always doing the right thing for other people – putting them ahead of himself.”
The basement incident occurred 16 years ago, and during his 25-year career as a police officer, Forero was rarely ever in over his head when it came to pursuing criminals. But that career concludes Friday – cut short by a heart attack that has caused the 51-year-old to realize that there is more to life.
It was by chance Forero, a Rochester area native, joined the city police force.
Married and a young father, he moved here to work as the manager of the Burger King at Broadway and Woltz Avenue, in one of Buffalo’s highest crime neighborhoods. Off-duty police officers moonlighted as security at the restaurant to ensure a safe atmosphere.
And, they soon took note of the friendly but feisty Forero.
“They saw that I fit right in with that rough-and-tumble neighborhood and dealing with the difficult individuals who would come into the restaurant,” Forero said.
At the urging of the officers, Forero took the Civil Service test for police officers. His days of supervising the production of flame-broiled whoppers were over.
He achieved a test score that placed him 27th on the hiring list out of 5,000 test takers. All the better, the test results were posted on the day of his 25th birthday.
And after completing the police academy, his first arrest involved a food heist.
“It was the day before Christmas in 1989, and we received a call within the first hour of my first shift of a burglary in progress at a wholesale food warehouse. As we came up Scajaquada Street, I saw the guy carrying these boxes of chicken, five of them, stacked on top of each other.
“We startled him, and he started running up a hill toward railroad tracks dropping the boxes. I jumped out of the car before my training officer could say anything,” said Forero.
Lilton L. Kelley, the senior officer, sent out a radio message that Forero was last scene flying up the railroad tracks in pursuit of a burglar.
In a matter of minutes, other patrols tightened the net to prevent escape and Forero slapped the cuffs on the thief, formalizing the first of what he estimates were more than 2,000 arrests in his career.
But it was that very first arrest that provided him with an invaluable lesson he says he never forgot.
“All of my success as a police officer is due to teamwork. When those other patrol officers responded, I realized that this is a job where you need to work together. No one police officer is capable of fighting crime on his or her own. You might not like the people you work with and they might not like you, but many times your lives may hang in each others’ hands,” Forero said.
In more recent years, Forero has been a member of the department’s Accident Investigation Unit, which handles the most serious vehicular crashes and pedestrian fatalities. That gave him the chance to develop investigatory skills in tracking down hit-and-run drivers.
Outraged that some drivers fled scenes, leaving their victims to die on the road, Forero said that gave him the incentive to build strong cases for prosecutors.
“For every case we brought to the District Attorney’s Office, we had a 100 percent conviction rate,” he said.
Assistant District Attorney Kelley Omel, who is chief of the DA’s Vehicular Crimes Buraeu, said Forero gave his work his all.
“He did a great job and we’re going to miss him,” Omel said. “I think the world of him and feel really bad he had to retire quickly.”
Yet there was a downside to his time in AIU.
It was a dreadful job informing families when a loved one died in an accident.
Sometimes the parents of teenagers refused to believe the news.
“They’d look out the window and see a marked patrol car parked in front of their house and then invite us in, and when we began to share the details, they would stop us and in all seriousness want to know who had put us up to this joke,” Forero said. “It was gut wrenching to have to tell them that this was no joke.”
Retired Lt. Joseph Pierchala, former commander of AIU, said Forero was a hard driving investigator.
“His tenacity and drive to get to the bottom of these crimes and find out what happened for the families to give them closure really stands out,” Pierchala said. “Marty was always the first to jump into any situation.”
But now as Forero moves on to spend more time with his children and grandchildren, he wants to say thanks to the people who made his career possible.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now. Everything that I have in life comes from the generosity of the citizens of the City of Buffalo. As a civil servant, that is the greatest compliment I can pay to my true bosses, the citizens of Buffalo.”