Three men were honored as Lawmen of the Year for their quick thinking and quick action to save lives at the annual Lawman Dinner last month hosted by the Judges and Police Executives Conference of Niagara County.
Lockport Police Officer Michael Stover and Lt. Toby Trowbridge were recognized for their efforts to rescue a distraught man who had jumped into the Erie Canal on Sept. 28. Niagara County Sheriff Deputy Joseph Tortorella put himself in between a gunman and the elementary school next door on April 17, 2015. Authorities later learned the gunman had shot his own parents in their Errick Road home, Tortorella engaged the man in a gun battle to protect the safety of the school children, along with his own wife and children, who were in the school.
Undersheriff Michael Filicetti, president of the Judges and Police Executives Conference of Niagara County, said, “All three law enforcement officers went above and beyond the call of duty to protect their community. Diving into an ice cold canal to rescue someone or exchanging gunfire with an assailant are certainly life and death situations that show the true character of these officers.”
Rescue in the canal
On Sept. 28, Stover and Trowbridge learned a man had jumped over a railing into the canal near a local business. He fell approximately 40 feet, injuring himself on a concrete wall before hitting the water. The man could be seen clinging to the side of a canal wall.
They were told by a man’s friend that he couldn’t swim.
It was dark, the area was unlit and the water, about 12 feet deep in that area, was frigid.
Trowbridge and Stover removed their police equipment and swam across the canal to where the man was clinging to a small ledge. They were just a short distance away from Locks 34 and 35, a spot where water enters submerged tunnels to provide hydroelectric power and known for its strong currents and suction.
With no hope of climbing up the sheer rock wall of the canal, the two were able to secure the man in a life vest and waited for the police boat to arrive.
The man was taken to the hospital to be treated for leg injuries and hypothermia. Both Stover and Trowbridge also suffered hypothermia and some cuts and bruises, they were treated and released and returned to work the next day.
“They are an asset to the residents of Lockport and positive role models for all police officers,” said Lockport Police Chief Michael F. Niethe.
Gun battle near a school
It was just a little over a year ago when Tortorella responded to a hang-up phone call at 6871 Errick Road in the Town of Wheatfield.
After several attempts to make contact at the front door, a man, later identified as Duane Bores, answered the door, but he was evasive and acting erratically. Bores closed the door to get dressed and Tortorella heard what sounded like a cry for help. Still not knowing what to expect he called for back up.
As he waited for Bores to come outside, Tortorella said he started getting suspicious and went around to the side where he found Bores had exited the rear of the house and was pacing in the driveway. He had blood on his hands and clothing. Tortorella ordered Bores to his knees and told him to keep his hands up. He tried to speak to Bores, but the man continued his erratic behavior.
At one point Bores reached behind his back while kneeling. He was reaching for a handgun as he started to stand. Tortorella fired at Bores, striking him three times while he retreated for cover behind a tree. Bores continued to fire at Tortorella. One round struck the deputy in the lower left front of his bulletproof vest, but did not penetrate the vest.
After a barrage of gunfire, Bores retreated to the rear of the house. Tortorella knew they were next door to the Errick Road Elementary school where is wife taught and children attended school. Tortorella moved to the other side of the house in an effort to cut off Bores’ movement and held this position as he waited for back up to arrive.
During the gun battle the sheriff department received another phone call from Bores’ mother and father who were inside the house. Both parents had been shot by their son and were unable to get out due to their injuries. The decision was made to go inside and locate Bores and remove the parents for treatment.
Once inside patrol units located the parent with gunshot wounds to the face and neck. The remaining units searched the residence and ultimately located Bores, dead in the kitchen from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Both parents were airlifted to a nearby trauma unit with serious injuries. Both are alive today thanks to the quick actions of Tortorella.
According to the Niagara County Sheriff Department, Bores’ parents visited the Sheriff’s Office to give thanks and show their support. The two said they firmly believe that their son was going to kill them if not for the intervention of Tortorella.