LOCKPORT – Longtime K-9 Officer Steven Ritchie stepped into retirement on Monday with handshakes and cheers from nearly 100 well-wishers from his department and others who lined the exit with an honor-guard salute from the door to the street.
Eleven years ago, Ritchie was almost forced off the job when a gunman shot him and other officers, before taking his own life. Ritchie spent two years in rehabilitation before returning to the force. Police Chief Lawrence Eggert, who was also shot that night, said it was hard to see Ritchie go.
“How many guys can say they came back from death and paralysis to be a police officer? What more dedication can you ask for?” he said.
Ritchie, now 51, says post-traumatic nightmares from that night recently got worse, causing him to take two months off. He eventually decided that, after 29 years as a Lockport Police Officer, it was time to retire.
“When I drive around on a night like that night when the snow is blowing, I get that feeling and I go home and have nightmares and I can’t sleep,” he said.
It started on the snowy night of Feb. 8, 2003. Jason Kanalley, 26, got into an argument in the Niagara Hotel with a new boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend. Kanelley shot the man with an AK-47 and fled in a vehicle, threatening to kill the ex-girlfriend’s parents.
Eggert, then a captain and chief of detectives, and Lt. Scott Seekins went to warn the parents. Meanwhile, Officer Michael Stover spotted Kanalley’s vehicle and followed it to a Town of Lockport trailer park. Eggert and Seekins also went there. Kanalley drove his vehicle straight at Eggert and Seekin’s car, firing the AK-47 through the windshield of his own vehicle. Eggert was shot in the shoulder as he bailed out.
Ritchie and his dog Blesk arrived at the scene in a K-9 SUV and Kanalley rammed the vehicle head-on while shooting. Ritchie took a bullet to the chest, broke his jaw and lost several teeth.
According to reports, Ritchie coded four times and was revived as he was taken to Erie County Medical Center, a snowplow leading the way for the ambulance in the heavy snow. “The last thing I remember before going unconscious is saying to myself, ‘I’m not going to die here,’” said Ritchie.
He woke up with his right arm paralyzed and spent a year in physical and occupational therapy.
Ritchie has a new career planned, after being granted approval by the Federal Communications Commission to take over the license for a low-power TV station, WBXZ, which he purchased from a Syracuse owner for $25,000. He is now the president of Ritchie Broadcasting, which he runs out of his home.
“I needed to find something to do that was completely unrelated to police work and I think I have found it. The right opportunity came along and things fell into place for me,” said Ritchie.
Ritchie said having his friends and coworkers around him as he left on Monday was very important.
“While I was recovering, they came to my house every day. They don’t realize how important that was to me in my recovery,” he said. Ritchie’s third dog, Thunder, will also be retiring with him.
He said his faith has become stronger after surviving a near-death experience. “Doctors were telling me, ‘I don’t know how you survived,’” said Ritchie. “I definitely feel blessed.”