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Officials ID security guard who died at Lancaster festival, say he was off duty

Robert Gajewski

The security guard who suffered a fatal heart attack on July 3 at the Lancaster Village Independence Days Celebration was not on duty when he helped subdue an unruly patron at the event's beer tent, Lancaster Town Police and village officials said.

The identity of the deceased guard, Robert Gajewski, 58, an employee of the Peace Officer Training Academy, was confirmed by village officials this week. Gajewski, of North Tonawanda, was also an instructor for the training academy.

"Bob was off duty when it happened," said Dawn Gaczewski, village events coordinator. "He came to the Beer Garden on Saturday to give me a change in schedule for personnel on the Fourth of July."

Gajewski suffered the fatal attack about 30 minutes after the arrest of a Cheektowaga man on second-degree harassment, according to a Lancaster Town Police report.

Ryan A. Manuella, 24, was being escorted out of the beer garden when he became violent with on-duty security guard Paul Gerace, 44, and punched Gerace in the side of the head causing bruising and swelling, police said.

Gajewski "helped the officer because he knew him," said Dennis R. Brennan, who heads the Peace Officer Training Academy at 2180 Elmwood Ave. Brennan, who was not at the scene, said, "He then went over to get some water, but unfortunately he had a heart attack."

The Buffalo News filed Freedom of Information requests with the Lancaster Police and the Village of Lancaster after they withheld information regarding the identity of Gajewski, the firm that employed him and the individual arrested in the beer garden.

Lancaster police withhold name of dead security guard

Gajewski's unexpected death stunned colleagues in the Town of Wheatfield, where he served as town constable. Robin Zastrow, Wheatfield's chief constable, recalled Gajewski as an active participant right up to the day he passed away.

"On Monday afternoon, he detailed patrol vehicles and prepared equipment for our town's Fourth of July fireworks," said Zastrow. "Bob was assigned to the fireworks detail Tuesday night, but tragically he did not make it."

In the Village of Lancaster, Gajewski frequently worked as a security guard at special events. "Bob had become a fixture at the Village of Lancaster Fourth of July event, as well as the Taste of Lancaster," said Lancaster Village Mayor Bill Schroeder.

Related: Robert Gajewski obituary

Independence Days is an annual celebration in the village that this year ran from July 1-4. Attractions included a midway, art show, performance stage featuring live entertainment, Boys & Girls Club 10K run and the beer garden.

While Lancaster police officers patrol many of the events, private security is routinely hired to monitor the entertainment venue, a fenced-in tented area located in a parking lot at the foot of West Main Street. This year the entertainment area, which includes the beer tent, was nearly doubled in size to 28,000 square feet to accommodate larger crowds, said Bill Cansdale, public works director for the village.

"I heard it was crazy crowded," said Cansdale.

Gaczewski estimated a crowd of 4,000 assembled the night of July 3 to enjoy the music of Nerds Gone Wild, an '80s band with a large following. The large crowd prompted Gaczewski to rethink the number of security personnel hired for next year's event.

There were six security guards this year. "I would definitely suggest an extra two guards," Gaczewski said.

Gaczewski, who identified Gajewski as her chief security officer, said the village did not enter into an employment contract with the guards. Each were paid in cash out of proceeds from the beer tent. After all the vendors are paid, the remaining revenue is split 60/40 respectively between the village and the Lancaster Boys & Girls Club, said Gaczewski. The Boys & Girls Club staffs the venue with volunteers, she explained.

"It's a lot to try and find people to work the events," said Mayor Schroeder. "But we see a significant value to these events."

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