William C. Sager Jr. always celebrated Memorial Day weekends with family and friends.
For Sager, who served his country in Afghanistan and reported to work at an air base, the holiday carried a special meaning.
“There is no holiday that is more near to his heart than Memorial Day,” said Sager’s fiancée, Erika Webster of Lockport. “He’s very patriotic. He loves his country very much.”
Friday, his family and friends gathered at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park along Buffalo’s waterfront to thank the community for its support of Sager.
Sager, an Air National Guard member, was injured in a University Heights bar on May 11.
The bar’s manager, Jeffrey J. Basil, 35, of Amherst, is jailed on a charge of first-degree assault and facing likely indictment for the incident. At a court hearing Friday, Adam O’Shei, an off-duty police officer, said he saw Basil shove Sager down a flight of stairs at Molly’s Pub.
Sager suffered a severe brain injury.
Sager’s family used Friday’s waterfront event to talk about the kind of man Sager is and how much they appreciate the public’s support.
Sager recently purchased a home and was deciding whether to pursue a career as a state trooper or continue his career in the military with a new mission at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
Sager’s loved ones also thanked the medical staff at Erie County Medical Center, where Sager lies in a coma.
The Naval Park was chosen because it symbolizes the “courage, and the commitment, and the conviction that Bill has in serving his community and his country,” said Francis M. Letro, an attorney for the family.
At ECMC, Sager receives a steady stream of visitors from the 107th Airlift Wing in Niagara Falls, which Sager joined in 2006 and worked as a crew chief.
Family members did not discuss specifics of Sager’s condition, but said they believe he hears them when they speak to him. They hold out hope for his recovery.
“I would say it’s too early to be able to tell anything definitively anyways,” Webster said. “It’s going to be day by day for a long time.”
Sager’s stepmother, Crystal Sager, said the family has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
“I even told him last night, I joked with him, I never knew you were so popular,” she said.
Some who came to the Naval Park event knew Sager well. Others didn’t know him at all, but they were touched by his story.
“It sickens you to think of what happened to that man,” said Patrick Creagh of Buffalo. “I’m disgusted by what took place. I feel for the fiancée. It’s a tragedy all the way around.”
Police Officers Robert E. Eloff and Adam E. O’Shei were suspended without pay earlier this week by Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda for what they did – or didn’t do – while working security at Molly’s on Main Street in University Heights on the night Sager was shoved down the flight of stairs.
Sager was described as a man who loves his country and is humble about his military service, which includes a three-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2011.
“He’s dedicated, hardworking, trustworthy,” said Tech Sgt. Greg Sliwa of Kenmore, who was deployed with Sager in Afghanistan. “I trust him with my life.”
The feeling on the base is one of disbelief, Sliwa said.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
In addition to family, friends and Sager’s colleagues from the 107th, the crowd included about eight Buffalo firefighters.
A charitable trust has been set up for Sager’s expenses. Donations can be made at any M&T Bank branch.
Letro, an attorney for the family, urged anyone with information about the incident to contact law enforcement.