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Passenger killed in crash into church during pursuit by Buffalo police

One person died Wednesday night after a car being pursued by Buffalo police crashed into a church on Genesee Street, according to the Buffalo Police Department.

A passenger, identified only as a male, died after the vehicle smashed into the Mount Zion Community Sanctuary, at 1549 Genesee near Bissell Avenue, according to Buffalo police and the wife of the church's pastor.

The driver of the vehicle, whose name also was not released, was in police custody at Erie County Medical Center, where he was taken after suffering a broken leg and head injuries, police said. Charges are pending against him, Buffalo Police Capt. Jeff Rinaldo said at a news conference Thursday morning.

Rinaldo said that it appears the department's pursuit policy was followed by the officers involved.

"At this point, it appears as if the policy was followed," Rinaldo said. "I think the officers did an excellent job in attempting to bring this to a safe conclusion, given the fact that these people had just committed, or were alleged to have committed a violent felony shooting on a city street and our officers acted very diligently and did everything they could to attempt to resuscitate the passenger of the vehicle."

Rinaldo told reporters that a police officer conducting a traffic stop near Michigan Avenue and Goodell Street at around 10:30 p.m. was approached by a person who said they were just shot at in that area.

The victim gave police a description of the suspects and their vehicle, which the officer put out over police radio. Another police officer spotted the vehicle and began pursuing. At some point, the pursuing officer lost sight of the vehicle but continued in its direction, Rinaldo said.

Police wound up arriving at the scene near Genesee and Bissell where the vehicle crashed into the church. Emergency responders pulled the passenger from the vehicle and performed CPR, but he died at the scene.

In total, roughly three to five minutes elapsed between when the pursuit began and when the officers discovered the crash, Rinaldo said.

Police recovered shell casings at the scene of the shooting near Michigan and Goodell, Rinaldo said. A gun was found somewhere between the scene of the shooting and the scene of the crash, possibly thrown from the vehicle trying to evade police, Rinaldo said.

A felony amount of drugs was recovered from the passenger of the vehicle who died in the crash, police said.

A number of police vehicles were involved in pursuing the suspects' vehicle, though Rinaldo didn't have a specific number.

Homicide detectives, the department's Accident Investigation Unit and its Internal Affairs Division are investigating.

Katherine Brown, the wife of Pastor Anthony M. Brown, said she received a call from her daughter between 11 and 11:30 p.m. Wednesday informing her of the crash and the damage to the church. Her daughter lives close enough to the church that she heard the crash.

"It was a really bad impact," Katherine Brown told The Buffalo News.

The entire front end of the car was lodged inside the church building, Brown said. By the time she arrived at the church, the dead passenger was laying next to the vehicle.

"I saw the body on the ground covered in a white sheet," Brown said.

Crews finally removed the car at about 2 a.m. Thursday, and that's when Brown and her family boarded up the gaping hole in the church.

Brown was back at the church later Thursday morning, when she led a brief prayer service outside the building with the deceased's girlfriend, who is also the mother of his child.

Brown said it's her understanding that the woman had sent her boyfriend out to a store for medication, around 9 p.m. Wednesday, and never heard from him again before she was awoken early Thursday with news of the crash.

Mount Zion Community Sanctuary only just opened for services on New Year's Eve, Brown said, and renovations to the former retail storefront building are still ongoing.



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