Police: Determining what caused Lehner's death will take time

Oct 18, 2017

Buffalo Police officials on Wednesday again expressed their gratitude to all who supported the effort to recover their fallen officer. But they also warned that it will require a long period of time before they know the circumstances surrounding Craig Lehner's death in the Niagara River.

The Buffalo Police Department, it was explained Wednesday, had designated two officers to work directly with Officer Lehner's family to prepare wake and funeral plans. Lieutenant Jeff Rinaldo did not yet have a date set for those services but it was anticipated to be some time next week. The lieutenant advised it will be an event that draws a large turnout.

Black and purple banners are draped above the main entrance of the Buffalo Police Department's downtown headquarters, as its officers mourn the loss of Officer Craig Lehner. His body was found Tuesday in the Niagara River, five days after he disappeared during an Underwater Recovery Team training session.
Credit Michael Mroziak / WBFO News

"Unfortunately, when a member of the police or fire community has died, it brings a large, large representation from outside the area," Rinaldo said. "Possibly thousands and thousands of people, so it is a large organization effort."

Lehner's body remained at Erie County Medical Center Wednesday for an autopsy. Buffalo Police Homicide Division detectives are leading the investigation at this time. Rinaldo stressed that the bureau probes every death in the city, regardless of the cause, and that it should not be seen as an indication of foul play in Lehner's death. 

Also assisting in the early stages of the investigation is a division of the New York State Labor Department's Public Employee Safety and Health office. By law, it gets involved with any death involving a public employee.

Rinaldo noted that diving experts will be among those consulted during an investigation that may take a considerable amount of time, perhaps several months.

"It's one thing when an accident happens in a pond. No current, no debris, no weather. It's kind of easy to break that backwards and figure out what happened," Rinaldo said. "When you're talking about the Niagara River, 12 mile-per-hour currents, debris fields, there are just so many variables that go into that equation. We may never know exactly what happened down there."

Lehner went missing Friday afternoon during a Police Underwater Recovery Team training exercise in the Niagara River near Broderick Park. His body was recovered near Strawberry Island Tuesday afternoon.

Listen to the last transmission to Lehner from Buffalo Police Dispatch:

Final Call - K9 43., Ofc Craig Lehner from ErieCoBlotter on Vimeo.