The flag-draped casket containing Buffalo police Officer Craig E. Lehner’s body began its final journey at about 9:25 a.m. Wednesday, heading from a funeral home in Hamburg to his funeral service in the KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo, where thousands of police officers from across North America waited in a light rain to salute him.
The casket and relatives of the officer, who died in a police dive team training exercise, were being escorted to the arena by police and the Patriot Guard riders from New York, Pennsylvania and Syracuse on 11 motorcycles and in dozens of police cruisers.
Thousands of law enforcement officers lined up 10 rows deep on both sides of Perry Street, from Washington Street to Michigan Avenue, saluting Lehner’s casket just after 10:25 a.m. as the hearse approached the KeyBank Center.
Police estimated more than 5,000 officers from across the U.S. and Canada will attend the 10 a.m. funeral service, expected to be one of the biggest in Western New York history.
The Buffalo News has more than a dozen reporters and five photographers providing live coverage of the funeral, the flag-waving Buffalonians lining the route of the funeral procession from the arena to Forest Lawn cemetery, and at the graveside services there.
You can follow the live coverage in the Tweets below:
WATCH LIVE: Coverage of Officer Craig Lehner’s funeral service
“Craig epitomized what a K-9 officer was. He was true professional,” said Sgt. Scott Johnstone, head of the Niagara Regional Police Service’s K-9 unit, as he waited outside the arena for the Harley Davidson motorcycle hearse carrying Lehner.
Johnstone helped train Lehner and Shield, his police dog. His entire 7-officer unit joined him for the funeral. Johnstone said he felt a range of emotions this morning: happy memories of working with Lehner but sadness over his death.
“Being police officers, we think we are pretty tough,” Johnstone said. “But it gets to you.”
Lehner’s K-9 dog, Shield, will follow the casket into the arena.
As the procession passed Ridge Road in Lackawanna, motorists were getting out of their vehicles on the outbound side and standing at attention to pay tribute to the fallen officer.
Bob Grande, an 80-year-old grandfather of a new Buffalo police officer by the same name, was among the members of the public who went into the KeyBank Center to watch the funeral service. “It’s good to see,” Grande said of the outpouring of support for Lehner. “Especially the way police officers are treated today. It’s a scary profession today.”
Michol Lavelle, a friend of Officer Lehner, wept quietly as Lehner’s flag-draped casket trailed a Harley-Davidson in procession on Route 5. pic.twitter.com/8xTtovtNkr
— Jay Tokasz (@JayTokasz) October 25, 2017
The weather during Officer Craig Lehner’s funeral is expected to be cooler with possible showers. A light rain was falling and it was 49 degrees in Buffalo at 9:30 a.m., with a wind chill that makes it feel like 44. Showers are forecast to fall most of the day through 7 p.m.
Lehner, 34, disappeared in the Niagara River shortly before 1 p.m. Oct. 13 during a training exercise for the Buffalo Police Department’s Underwater Recovery Team. His body was recovered in the river Oct. 17. A nine-year veteran of the department, Lehner was a K-9 officer as well as a dive team member.
Lehner was alone in the river during the training session when the tender cable that connected him to colleagues on land became snagged on an unknown object, The Buffalo News reported. Team members on the Bird Island pier knew they had a serious problem when the line suddenly tightened.
Lehner was the 51st Buffalo police officer to die in the line of duty or from injuries suffered in the line of duty.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not expected to attend the funeral service. He’s scheduled to be in Glens Falls Wednesday morning. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to attend.
“Police face a lot of criticism these days,” former Buffalo police Commissioner McCarthy Gipson said. But “at times like this (people) come out and rally and show their support for us.”
Doug Allen, who sings the National Anthem at Buffalo Sabres home games, will sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at Lehner’s funeral. Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, Lt. Salvatore Losi, who heads the Buffalo police K-9 unit, and Detective Leo McGrath, commander of the police dive team who spotted Lehner’s body Oct. 17 in the Niagara River, will be among the speakers at the arena. The service will include a video montage with “Carry On Wayward Son,” by the classic rock band Kansas.
Members of the public are invited to the 10 a.m. service; those not planning to attend are advised to avoid the area surrounding the arena, if possible, from 6 a.m. until the early afternoon. Extra Metro Rail trains will be running on Wednesday morning.
Streets around the arena will be closed, including Main, Washington, Perry and Scott streets, as well as Erie Avenue into Erie Basin Marina. Ohio Street, between Ganson Street and Michigan, will be closed and used for a staging area and parking.
Here’s the route the procession will take from the KeyBank Center to Forest Lawn.
Two streets near the cemetery will be closed – Main Street between Canisius College and Delavan Avenue, and West Delavan between Delaware and Main. They will be closed by about 9 a.m.