Today marks the 15th anniversary of the day Buffalo Police Officer James Shields died in a car crash while responding to a robbery call.
Buffalo Police Officer Craig Lehner, who died during a training exercise in the Niagara River and was laid to rest Wednesday, had named his K-9 partner, Shield, after Shields.
On Oct. 30, 2002, Shields and his partner, Officer Kimberly Monteforte, were following a bus that they believed suspects from a convenience store robbery were riding in. Their patrol car slammed into a tree on Delaware Avenue near Bryant Street. Shields was killed and Monteforte suffered a broken hip.
Investigators later learned that the robbery at a convenience store had been staged and the call to 911 about the robbers getting on the bus was fake.
Lt. Salvatore Losi, who heads the Buffalo Police Department's K-9 unit, told The News that Lehner had the idea of naming Shield after the fallen officer. Losi and Lehner were driving together when Lehner made his suggestion.
"The idea totally came from him," Losi told The News amid the five-day search for Lehner in the Niagara River. Naming dogs for fallen officers is a tradition in other departments, but it was the first time he was aware of it happening in Buffalo.
Jeannette Shields, 82, mother of James Shields, said Lehner's tribute to her son has lasting resonance for the family.
"It means officers are never truly forgotten," she said Saturday.