Two Guardsmen recognized
By Staff Sgt. Peter Dean, 107th AW
/ Published July 13, 2010
Niagara Falls, New York -- Recently two New York State Troopers, one a former New York Army Guardsman and the other a current New York Air Guardsman were presented the 2009 Lawman of the Year Award for their lifesaving action more than a year ago.
Troopers Edward Stefik, 107th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard member and William Persinger former 1st Battalion 108th Infantry, New York Army National Guard member, were four hours into their over night shift, when the call came in over the inter-agency channel, a channel that links state and local law enforcement agencies together. The transmission by the Erie County Sheriff Department advised all available units that Niagara County Deputies were in pursuit of a domestic violence suspect. The suspect allegedly had caused injuries to a female victim that rendered her in need of immediate medical care.
Troopers Stefik and Persinger, each in their own squad cars joined the high-speed pursuit that included countless law enforcement officials. The suspect while attempting to elude the authorities drove his vehicle in such a reckless manor that he endangered not only his life, but all that came across his path. After striking a police cruiser the suspect raced away at a high rate speed, traveling northbound on the interstate in the southbound lane. Unable to elude the authorities, the vehicle pursuit ended when the suspect abandoned his vehicle and fled on foot.
K 9 units from the U.S. Boarder Patrol tracked the suspect to the waters edge and upon closing in on his position the subject made the decision to enter the swift moving 40-degree water. At this point in the eyes of law enforcement agents the subject changed his status from suspect to victim.
"Whether he was a defendant or not he was a victim at that time, he put himself in a situation were we had to take action," said Stefik. "And that's what we do," he added.
The victim entered the Upper Niagara River, just up stream from the New York State Power Authority intake tubes, an area known as the point of no return.
"This area is extremely dangerous, it's within a few hundred feet of the intakes, and just upstream from the Falls (he was referring to the Niagara Falls),"said Trooper Persinger.
At this location in the river the swift moving current can achieve speeds of more than 8 MPH, added with the frigid water temperature and the weight of clothing and gear it becomes a deadly combination.
Within just seconds at the rivers edge, it became clear to Troopers Stefik and Persinger that there instructions to return to shore were falling upon defiant ears. Without hesitation and complete disregard for their own wellbeing the Troopers proceeded into the dark fringed river.
"In the heat of the moment, you kinda evaluate the situation in a micro second and do what you have to do," said Peringer.
"Our training kicked in," said Stefik. "Both Bill and I have military and police training that prepares us to react to all kinds of situations, seconds count, he was bobbing up and down, we didn't have time to wait.
"It was rather shocking, once I lost footing and knew I was swimming, thank God for adrenaline, all of a sudden you realize that your vest and equipment are not a floatation devise," said Peringer.
One would think that a person in distress, minutes away from almost certain death would welcome the aid of two selfless Troopers.
"We got out there and he decided to struggle with us, luckily we were able to over power him, preventing him from doing harm to himself and other," said Persinger.
"It was defiantly a one shot deal, we were going to do the best we could to bring this guy in without becoming victims ourselves," said Stefik.
"We were totally exhausted from swimming with our gear on, dragging this guy back to shore," said Stefik. " Thankfully there were plenty of Sheriff Deputies and Trooper on shore to pull us all out, he added.
The 2009 Lawman of the Year Award is awarded for meritorious service in the performance of duty.
"I'm honored," he said, "but it really recognizes all the work troopers do," said Stefik. "I feel our military training helped us become better policemen and react swiftly under pressure," he added.
The 21-year-old suspect was charge with DWI, reckless driving, leaving the scene of an auto injury accident, reckless endangerment and numerous other vehicle and traffic violations.