Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

December 25, 2012

Police: N.Y. gunman set ‘trap’ for firefighters

WEBSTER, N.Y. — An ex-con set a car and a house ablaze in his lakeside neighborhood to lure firefighters, then opened fire on them, killing two, engaging in a shootout with police and committing suicide while several homes burned. Authorities used an armored vehicle to evacuate the area.

The gunman fired at the four firefighters when they arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. at the blaze in Webster, a suburb of Rochester on Lake Ontario, town Police Chief Gerald Pickering said. The first police officer who arrived chased the suspect and exchanged gunfire, authorities said.

Police say he lay in wait outdoors for the firefighters’ arrival, then opened fire probably with a rifle and from atop an earthen berm, Pickering said.

“It does appear it was a trap,” he said.

The gunman, William Spengler, had served more than 17 years in prison for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer in 1980 at the house next to where Monday’s attack happened, Pickering said at afternoon news conference. Spengler, 62, was paroled in 1998 and had led a quiet life since, authorities said. Convicted felons are not allowed to possess weapons.

Two firefighters, one of whom was also a town police lieutenant, died at the scene, and two others were hospitalized. A fifth man who was passing by was also injured. The police officer who exchanged gunfire with Spengler and “in all likelihood saved many lives,” Pickering said.

Seven houses were destroyed, Pickering said, and police have not been able to get inside to determine if there are any more victims. They said Spengler’s 67-year-old sister Cheryl Spengler was unaccounted for. He lived in the house with his sister and mother, Arline, who died in October.

Spengler had originally been charged with second-degree murder in connection with grandmother Rose Spengler’s death. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter.

The West Webster Fire District learned of the fire early Monday after a report of a car and house on fire on Lake Road, on a narrow peninsula where Irondequoit Bay meets Lake Ontario, Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn said.

The fire appeared from a distance as a pulsating ball of flame glowing against the early morning sky, flames licking into treetops and reflecting on the water, with huge bursts of smoke billowing away in a brisk wind.

Two of the firefighters arrived on a fire engine and two in their own vehicles, Pickering said. After Spengler fired, one of the wounded men managed to flee, but the other three couldn’t because of flying gunfire.

A police armored vehicle was used to recover two of the men, and eventually it evacuated 33 people from nearby homes, the police chief said. The gunfire initially kept firefighters from battling the blazes.

“These people get up in the middle of the night to go put out fires; they don’t expect to be shot and killed,” Pickering said.

The dead men were identified as Police Lt. Michael Chiapperini, 43, the Webster Police Department’s public information officer; and Tomasz Kaczowka, also a 911 dispatcher, whose age was not released.

Pickering described Chiapperini as a “lifetime firefighter” with nearly 20 years with the department, and called Kaczowka a “tremendous young man.”

The two wounded firefighters, Joseph Hofsetter and Theodore Scardino, were in guarded condition in the intensive care unit at Strong Memorial Hospital, authorities said. Both were awake and alert and are expected to recover.

Hofsetter, also a full-timer with the Rochester Fire Department, was hit once in the pelvis, and the bullet lodged in his spine, authorities said. Scardino was hit in the chest and knee.

Monday’s shooting and fires were in a neighborhood of seasonal and year-round homes set close together across the road from the lakeshore. The area is popular with recreational boaters but is normally quiet this time of year.

“We have very few calls for service in that location,” Pickering said. “Webster is a tremendous community. We are a safe community, and to have a tragedy befall us like this is just horrendous.”

O’Flynn lamented the violence, which comes on the heels of other shootings including the massacre of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“It’s sad to see that that this is becoming more commonplace in communities across the nation,” O’Flynn said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the State Police and Office of Emergency Management were working with local authorities.

“Volunteer firefighters and police officers were injured and two were taken from us as they once again answered the call of duty,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We as the community of New York mourn their loss as now two more families must spend the holidays without their loved ones.”

Webster, a middle-class suburb, now is the scene of violence linked to house fires for two Decembers in a row.

Last Dec. 7, authorities say, a 15-year-old boy doused his home with gasoline and set it ablaze, killing his father and two brothers, 16 and 12. His mother and 13-year-old sister escaped with injuries. He is being prosecuted as an adult.

1
Text Only
Top News
  • blood drive.jpg Give Blood

    Give Blood

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Man arrested in Valdosta drug raid

    Man arrested in Valdosta drug raid

    August 1, 2014

  • Taiwan Gas Explosions_Stew.jpg Gas explosions in Taiwan

    At least 24 people were killed and 271 others injured when several underground gas explosions ripped through Taiwan’s second-largest city overnight, hurling concrete through the air and blasting long trenches in the streets, authorities said Friday.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Immigration Overload_Roge.jpg Immigration courts speed up children’s cases

    Immigration courts are speeding up hearings for the tens of thousands of Central American children caught on the U.S. border after criticism that the backlogged system is letting immigrants stay in the country for years while waiting for their cases to be heard.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Extra jurors seated for long Ga. salmonella trial

    After three days of jury selection, a panel with plenty of extra members was seated Thursday to hear the case of three people charged in connection with a deadly salmonella outbreak traced to a southwest Georgia peanut plant five years ago.

    August 1, 2014

  • Liberia West Africa E_Roge.jpg Ebola outbreak tops 700 deaths

    The death toll from the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history surpassed 700 in West Africa as security forces went house-to-house in Sierra Leone’s capital Thursday looking for patients and others exposed to the disease.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Israel Palest_Roge.jpg U.S., U.N. announce deal on Gaza cease-fire

    Israel and Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire beginning Friday, during which time there will be negotiations on a more durable truce in the 24-day-old Gaza war, the United States and United Nations announced Thursday.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Congress_Stew.jpg Congress oks VA, highway bills, not border measure

    Congress ran full-tilt into election-year gridlock over immigration Thursday and staggered toward a five-week summer break after failing to agree on legislation to cope with the influx of young immigrants flocking illegally to the United States.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wisconsin Unions_Stew.jpg Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds union law

    The fight over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s signature policy achievement, a law effectively ending collective bargaining for most public employees, ended Thursday with the state Supreme Court declaring it to be constitutional.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History

    In 1714, Britain's Queen Anne died at age 49; she was succeeded by George I.

    August 1, 2014

Top News
Poll

Do you agree with the millage rate increases?

Yes. We need to maintain services
No. Services should have been cut.
     View Results