Buffalo police expect 5,000 to 10,000 law enforcement officers from across the United States and Canada to attend Officer Craig E. Lehner's funeral on Wednesday at the KeyBank Center, a Buffalo police official said Monday.
Lehner's K-9 dog, Shield, will follow the casket into the arena for what could be the largest police funeral ever held in Western New York. Members of the public are invited to the 10 a.m. service.
Lehner, 34, disappeared in the Niagara River shortly before 1 p.m. Oct. 13 during a training exercise for the Buffalo Police Department's Underwater Recovery Team. His body was recovered in the river Oct. 17. A nine-year veteran of the department, Lehner was a K-9 officer as well as a dive team member.
Police advised members of the public not planning on attending the funeral to avoid the arena area, if possible, from about 6 a.m. until the early afternoon. Members of the public attending the funeral are urged to take public transportation. Extra Metro Rail trains will be running on Wednesday morning.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to attend Lehner's funeral service, Lt. Jeff Rinaldo said at a briefing at the KeyBank Center.
Before the service, there will be a limited procession of police and family from Lakeside Funeral Home in Hamburg to the arena. Police said they expect to release details about what route the procession would take to downtown Buffalo.
Buffalo police officers will gather on the plaza outside the arena before the service. Officers from other agencies will line up along Perry Street. The public must enter the arena near the Buffalo Sabres store on the Main Street side of the building. The security protocol in effect for the funeral will be the same as for Sabres games. The public will be seated in the 300 level.
The funeral service is expected to last about an hour.
After the service, there will be a procession from the downtown arena to Forest Lawn cemetery. The procession will leave the arena heading down Perry, north on Michigan Avenue, west on Scott Street to Upper Terrace to Franklin Street, past Buffalo police headquarters, to Niagara Street, around Niagara Square and up Delaware Avenue. There will be intermittent closures of Delaware through the morning, as well as a complete closure of Delaware during the procession.
The procession is expected to leave the area around KeyBank Center at about 11 a.m. or 11:30 a.m.
Streets around the arena will be closed, including Main, Washington, Perry and Scott streets, as well as Erie Avenue into Erie Basin Marina. Ohio Street, between Ganson Street and Michigan, will be closed and used for a staging area and parking.
Two streets near the cemetery will be closed – Main Street between Canisius College and Delavan Avenue, and West Delavan between Delaware and Main. They will be closed by about 9 a.m.
The Skyway will remain open for traffic throughout the morning, Rinaldo said.
Members of the public who want to view the procession will have accessible vantage points along Delaware Avenue between Niagara Square and West Delavan Avenue, police said.
Police aren't sure exactly what happened that caused Lehner to go missing during the training exercise. Police sources said Lehner was attached to a tender cable in about 25 feet of water when he suddenly stopped moving.