2 firefighters die in ambush at blazing New York house

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WEBSTER, N.Y. — An ex-con gunned down two firefighters after luring them to his neighborhood by setting a car and a house ablaze early Monday, then took shots at police and committed suicide while several homes burned.

An image taken from video shows a wide view of homes on fire in an area where a gunman ambushed four volunteer firefighters in Webster, N.Y.  ASSOCIATED PRESS
An image taken from video shows a wide view of homes on fire in an area where a gunman ambushed four volunteer firefighters in Webster, N.Y.

Authorities used an armored vehicle to help residents flee dozens of homes on the shore of Lake Ontario a day before Christmas. Police restricted access to the neighborhood, and officials said it was not clear whether there were other bodies in the seven houses left to burn.

The sister of the gunman, who lived with him, was unaccounted for. The gunman's motive was unknown.

The gunman fired at the four firefighters when they arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. at the blaze in Webster, a suburb of Rochester, town Police Chief Gerald Pickering said. The first police officer who arrived chased the suspect and exchanged gunfire.

He lay in wait outdoors for the firefighters' arrival, then opened fire probably with a rifle and from atop an earthen berm, Pickering said.

"It does appear it was a trap," he said.

The gunman, William Spengler, had served more than 17 years in prison for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer in 1980 at the house next to where Monday's attack happened, Pickering said at afternoon news conference. Spengler, 62, was paroled in 1998 and had led a quiet life since, authorities said. Convicted felons are not allowed to possess weapons.

Two firefighters, one of whom was also a town police lieutenant, died at the scene, and two others were hospitalized. An off-duty officer who was passing by was also injured.

Another police officer, the one who exchanged gunfire with Spengler, "in all likelihood saved many lives," Pickering said.

Emergency radio communications capture someone saying he "could see the muzzle flash coming at me" as Spengler carried out his ambush. The audio posted on the website RadioReference.com has someone reporting "firefighters are down" and saying "got to be rifle or shotgun - high powered ... semi or fully auto."

Spengler lived in the house with his sister and mother, Arline, who died in October. He had originally been charged with second-degree murder in connection with grandmother Rose Spengler's death but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter.

The West Webster Fire District learned of the fire early Monday after a report of a car and house on fire on Lake Road, on a narrow peninsula where Irondequoit Bay meets Lake Ontario, Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn said.

The fire appeared from a distance as a pulsating ball of flame glowing against the early morning sky, flames licking into treetops and reflecting on the water, with huge bursts of smoke billowing away in a brisk wind.

Two of the firefighters arrived on a fire engine and two in their own vehicles, Pickering said. After Spengler fired, one of the wounded men managed to flee, but the other three couldn't because of flying gunfire.

A police armored vehicle was used to recover two men, and eventually it evacuated 33 people from nearby homes, the police chief said.

The gunfire initially kept firefighters from battling the blazes.

The dead men were identified as Police Lt. Michael Chiapperini, 43, the Webster Police Department's public information officer; and Tomasz Kaczowka, also a 911 dispatcher, whose age was not released.

Pickering described Chiapperini as a "lifetime firefighter" with nearly 20 years in the department, and called Kaczowka a "tremendous young man."

The two wounded firefighters, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, were in guarded condition in the intensive care unit at Strong Memorial Hospital, authorities said. Both were awake and alert and are expected to recover.

Hofstetter, also a full-timer with the Rochester Fire Department, was hit once in the pelvis, and the bullet lodged in his spine, authorities said. Scardino was hit in the chest and knee.

At West Webster Fire Station 1, there were at least 20 bouquets on a bench in front and a bouquet of roses with three gold-and-white ribbons saying, "May they rest in peace," ''In the line of duty" and "In memory of our fallen brothers."

A handwritten sign says, "Thanks for protecting us, RIP." Two candles were lit to honor the dead.

Grieving firefighters declined to talk to reporters. A memorial vigil was planned for early Monday evening.

The shooting and fires were in a neighborhood of seasonal and year-round homes set close together across the road from the lakeshore. The area is popular with recreational boaters but is normally quiet this time of year.

"We have very few calls for service in that location," Pickering said. "Webster is a tremendous community. We are a safe community, and to have a tragedy befall us like this is just horrendous."

O'Flynn lamented the violence, which comes on the heels of other shootings including the massacre of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"It's sad to see that that this is becoming more commonplace in communities across the nation," O'Flynn said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the State Police and Office of Emergency Management were working with local authorities.

"Volunteer firefighters and police officers were injured and two were taken from us as they once again answered the call of duty," Cuomo said in a statement. "We as the community of New York mourn their loss as now two more families must spend the holidays without their loved ones."

Webster, a middle-class suburb, now is the scene of violence linked to house fires for two Decembers in a row.

Last Dec. 7, authorities say, a 15-year-old boy doused his home with gasoline and set it ablaze, killing his father and two brothers, 16 and 12. His mother and 13-year-old sister escaped with injuries. He is being prosecuted as an adult.

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rmwhitley 12/24/12 - 04:20 pm
God bless those

officers and their families. Wonder if spengler got his weapons like "fast and furious" cartel punks? I'd talk to eric holder.

OpenCurtain 12/24/12 - 05:57 pm


The gunman, had served more than 17 years in prison for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death in 1980. Paroled in 1998.

Convicted felons are not allowed to possess weapons.

What Was The CAUSE?
Another Mentally Ill Nut Case, that should NOT have been walking the streets, after committing an BRUTAL MURDER.

Back in the late 1980-Early 90's The Touchy-Fleely crowd along with the ACLU went all out challenging the involuntary committal of physically aggressive Mentally Ill people.

Their argument: They could be treated with a Magic Pill.
Results: Another great SOCIAL Experiment gone bad, due to lack of understanding or reading 200+ Years history. An the public
pays the price.

They pushed for shorter sentences and early releases.

NO I have no way of knowing if the Nut Case was one of the initial releases or just a product of the Liberal mentality
that they championed.

But 2 things are certain.
1. It is another example of a person BANNED from legally owning a Firearm using to one. While 2 honest citizens and volunteer
life saving servants could not have one for self protection likely because of a government policy.

2.The firefighters and the homeowners were force to wait for the police to arrive. While 2 died, numerous families and houses were destroyed at Christmas.

YEAH! Gun Control worked In Reverse
It worked perfectly for the Nut Job / Gun Man.
Because no one had a gun to shoot back or defend themselves.

OpenCurtain 12/24/12 - 05:59 pm

Spoke with my son earlier today.
He is a Firefighter / EMS, working in the Metro Atlanta area.

He said more than a few of his fellow GA Firefighters have started carrying S&W MP Shields concealed, since around October this year.

Even Firefighters understand the police cannot be everywhere and as he said: "Dad a lot happens in 5 to 10 minutes."

specsta 12/24/12 - 06:01 pm
No Justice

This guy beat his 92-year-old grandmother to death - and he only served 17 years - and was paroled???

Meanwhile, NON-VIOLENT folks are convicted and locked up for years for "possession" of something.

I'll say it again - prison and jail should be for VIOLENT offenders. Maybe this guy was paroled to make room for some teenager who got caught with too many bags of weed.

Good job, justice system...

fedex227 12/24/12 - 08:25 pm
Some new additions to the touchy-feely crowd ...

"Conservative governors in lock ’em up states are suddenly talking about rehabilitation and redemption, not throwing away the key. Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation in April that opens the door to overhauling Georgia’s sentencing laws; Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal in January announced a partnership to help fix the state’s ballooning incarceration rate—the highest in the country. In Indiana, Mitch Daniels says he is fighting for legislation to reduce recidivism (nationally, 43 percent of offenders are back in jail within three years). And Ohio’s new Republican governor, John Kasich, is being feted by conservatives for pushing a prison reform bill through the state house in early May, calling the reform “low-hanging fruit.” Legislation that would keep more people out of prison has also recently passed in such right-leaning states as Kentucky, Arkansas and South Carolina."

-Eve Conant (Newsweek)

Gage Creed
Gage Creed 12/24/12 - 08:47 pm
The death penalty should be

The death penalty should be for violent offenders....very low rates of recidivism when the death penalty is applied.

itsanotherday1 12/24/12 - 11:08 pm
I say thumbs up to all of the

I say thumbs up to all of the above posts. There is no 100% right answer for everything, but this guy should never have seen the light of day at least until he was old and gray. And that brings up another issue.

Why do we keep old people incarcerated at great expense? I know life means life, but in the cases where someone committed a heinous crime at a young age and has been a model prisoner for 50 years, they've served all of their useful life in prison. I just don't see the societal advantage of tying up prison beds for a bunch of harmless senior citizens that cost a lot of money to keep healthy. Let them out and have some family help look out for them.

I saw a Lock-up Raw show last night that illustrated an Illinois(?) prison that had worked out several levels of security. If you were calm and with a good record, you stayed in a dormitory type building- no bars. Locked doors, but no bars. The inmates on good behavior felt a certain amount of freedom there and were happy and productive. Screw-ups were kept behind bars and obviously sullen and uncooperative. I think there IS a rehabilitation opportunity if the prisoners are given an opportunity to prove they are not incorrigible. Those that are receptive, treat them well and try to make citizens of them; those that want to continue gangbanging and harassing staff, let them rot in ad-seg.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 12/25/12 - 12:36 am
Okay, Congress . . .

After you finish writing a new law limiting the size of clips for semi-automatic weapons to atone for the Connecticut school shooting, what new law will you write to atone for this shooting?

OpenCurtain 12/25/12 - 08:31 am
LL - A law I can live with

Anyone arrested for using any weapon to deliberately murder a 1st responder (police, fire, medical) who was responding to a call, shall be tired in a COURT by a jury of 9 persons.

Each jury member under oath shall affirm they have no moral, ethical, alternative intentions, or reservations from voting based on the facts and evidence of the case.

If found guilty by 7 or more of the 9 jury members, the murder will have 1 appeal.

Limited Appeals
Said appeal must be heard within 6 months and ruled on within 3 weeks after initially being heard. The appeal shall be by a panel of 3 State elected judges and must include a open Public review of ALL applicable evidence and test results.

If the guilty verdict is reaffirmed by the panel of Judges, that person shall be put to death at noon by Open Air Publicly viewed Hanging with 2 weeks following the review.

Said Open Air Publicly viewed Hanging shall be held either in the parking lot of the county court house, or the Town Square. Said Public Open Air location shall afford maximum public attendance and view-ability.

The executed murder shall swing until sundown.

At which time the scuffling shall be put to the torch by the victims family, close friends, or a court appointed person, if the none of the preceding wish to do so.

As An Added Protection
(It is a shame, but there are those that would ride the coat tails of this for higher power and higher office.)


Any court related official or person of influence found guilty of concealing evidence, or denying a fair and impartial trial, which leads to the wrongful verdict, shall be tired for Murder, using the same law and process.

The Courts, Government, nor Fred Russell shall tax or charge in any way for the execution or attendance. Donations to the victims Immediate Family members will be TAX FREE at all levels.


seenitB4 12/25/12 - 09:29 am
Repeat after me

We CAN NOT get all the guns...never ever will this happen....sooo stop day dreaming that we can.....
1st thing .....the crooks will always have them....then if we tried by going door to door (crazy thinking btw) we would have a civil war again....

SO...be logical & think how we can protect the kids in schools.....malls & etc....
Security gurads & trained law abiding people .......pay them to protect public places...

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