Niagara Gazette

November 23, 2012

K-9 caper leads to arrest in hit-and-run case

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A Niagara County Sheriff's Office K-9, who needed to answer the "call of nature," and his handler, are among those getting credit for putting a hit-and-run driver behind bars on Thanksgiving eve.

"We had a little bit of luck, a lot of police work and the help of a witness," Falls Police Traffic Division Capt. Sal Pino said in describing what led to the arrest of Mark Brown. 

Brown, 43, of the Falls, faces charges of driving while intoxicated, leaving the scene of a serious injury accident, vehicular assault and tampering with evidence in connection with the crash that left a 58-year-old Niagara Falls man seriously injured in the 9100 block of Niagara Falls Boulevard around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Pino said another driver witnessed the accident and, after seeing that someone had stopped to help the victim, decided to follow the the car that struck the man. 

"(The witness) realized what had happened and he figured he'd go after (the hit-and-run driver)," Pino said. "But (the witness) was not from the Falls, so as he was following (Brown) he didn't know where he was going and became concerned that he might be going into a bad area."

The witness got the license plate number of what turned out to be Brown's car and returned to the crash scene to give the information to Falls Police Traffic Division officers who were there investigating the incident.

"(The witness) was even able to provide us with some very particular information that the rear quarter panel of the car was a different color than the rest of the car," Pino said. 

Concerned that the hit-and-run driver might try to dispose of the car in a rural area outside of the city, Pino asked police dispatchers to broadcast a description of the vehicle to not only city cops, but to sheriff's deputies as well. That paid immediate dividends.

"One of their deputies recognized who our suspect was and was able to develop information on where (the hit-and-run driver) might park his car," Pino said.

Armed with that information, Falls Police Roving Anti-Crime Unit officers were able to find the car, a 1996 Chevy Monte Carlo, hidden behind a home in the 800 block of 87th Street. Evidence there lead officers to believe heir suspect might be near by and Pino asked police Patrol Division officers to surround the darkened home.

At that point, Sheriff's K-9 Deputy Shawn Furey, and his partner Vedder, arrived on the scene to assist. Furey, with help from Niagara County Probation officers, had supplied the information of where Brown and his car might be.

Furey and the officers waited, nature took its course with Vedder.

"I brought (Vedder) out of the car, because I thought I'd take him to the back of the house to provide security back there," Furey said. "Then as he were going back there, I thought maybe I'd let him (relieve himself)."

As Furey walked his dog toward a fence, Vedder made a sudden move.

"So he's walking toward the fence and all of a sudden his head goes down and he's tracking and I thought, why is he tracking," Furey said. But then he started going through the brushand we came around a garage and there was (Brown). He was just sitting there."

Furey and the Falls officers took Brown into custody. In an ironic twist, Brown had been released from the Niagara County Jail just a few hours earlier in the day.

Investigators said Brown's speech was slurred and her "reeked" of alcohol. The suspect refused a Breathalyzer test, but officers recovered a receipt for a 12 pack of beer from his pocket and four unopened cans of beer by Brown's car.

The victim was taken to the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo for treatment of head and internal injuries and a fractured leg. The injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.

"You had four different police agencies all working together on this and without each of them, this (the arrest) wouldn't have happened," Furey said. "Everything came together perfectly on this."