I-TEAM: Significant equipment purchased after Lehner's death

Lehner's sister visits scene for the first time

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) - For the first time since his death, Buffalo Police Lt. Craig Lehner's sister, Donna Wilson, visited the spot where her brother perished. Lehner was training underwater, with the Buffalo Police Underwater Recovery Team, on October 13, 2017.  His body was found days later.

Wilson said, "I almost feel like I need to go but I'm scared to go...there's still a lot of anger.  It's a process.  Grief is a process."

Part of the process has included a search for answers and a reason why Lehner died. By all accounts, this was supposed to be a routine training exercise in the Niagara River.

Wilson has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Police Department. The lawsuit claims Lehner "suffered pre-death terror, conscious pain and suffering" underwater before he passed.

"Was this something that could have been prevented," Wilson questioned.  "To see someone else go through what we've had to go through... we'll do anything we can to make sure it doesn't."

Lehner was attached to a tether, when was snagged on a boulder underwater.  A new state report shows the tether was cut in three different places.  A source says the line was frayed at arm's length, indicating, they say, at some point he cut the line himself.  Lehner's EMT sheers were missing from his harness when his body was recovered.

As a public safety diver, Lehner did not have a quick-release snap shackle.  Experts say this could have helped him in an emergency.

See how a quick-release snap shackle works, here.

"You could come to the surface, but it would enable you to get out of the entrapment," said diving expert Brett Galambos.  

Galambos works with Robson Forensic in Pennsylvania .  He says a snap shackle provides a safety and redundancy for public safety divers.  Any major agency, Galambos said, would or should have them.

"The need for safety...for the safety divers --or the rescue divers -- is paramount because if they cannot be safe themselves, how could they either rescue somebody or recover somebody," Galambos questioned.

In its response to the civil lawsuit, the City of Buffalo argues Lehner "may have failed to utilize available safety devices," but did not elaborate.

The City of Buffalo would not officially comment for this story.

The 7 Eyewitness News I-Team has obtained a list of the URT's equipment inventory and those snap shackles are not listed.  They are not listed as part of this year's $21,000 budget either.  We got a copy of the budget through an official request.

A high-ranking police source says they've been ordered along with everything on that budget.

The budget was submitted in the months after Lehner's death.  It includes six Sartek Industries RSV-1 "modular control valves," which "in an emergency, divers can share breathing gases without the exposure to contaminants or cold water," allowing a diver to switch supplies in "less than a second."

Sartek reports this is "particularly useful to a diver...with a full face mask" and becomes trapped.

See how the RSV-1 works, here.

But sources connected to this case say Lehner was not wearing a full face mask during the dive in the Niagara River.  Experts say a full face mask for public safety divers is standard.

"I don't know anything specific about this case, but I have seen instances where certain agencies don't have the proper training or equipment to enable them to do their job safely," Galambos said.

Training documents obtained by the I-Team show, Lehner had done five training dives before this dive in the Niagara River; three in the Union Ship Canal and two at the foot of Michigan. 

There is no documentation that Lehner ever trained in swift water, before the deadly dive in the river.

Aaron Glazer, the family's attorney, told the I-Team,

"The lawsuit alleges, among other things, Officer Lehner did not receive proper training to dive in fast moving water before he is subjected to a current such as the Niagara."

A year later, there are still many questions and many emotions.

"I'm angry at God for letting that happen," Wilson said.  "I know this is part of his plan and I know I have to have faith...but I'm mostly just angry and upset he's gone."

There is another court date scheduled for October 22 in Wilson's case against the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Police Department.

 

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