Niagara County Sheriff Deputy Allen Gerhardt, a decorated veteran who flew combat missions in Iraq, lost both of his legs when his cruiser crashed into a guardrail Monday night in Ransomville.
Gerhardt, 36, of Newfane, was listed in stable condition Wednesday after undergoing 5 1/2 hours of surgery Tuesday night.
The deputy's family members say the quick action of officers who first arrived at the scene saved his life. As it turned out, both officers were members of the department's emergency response team and both knew how to tie a tourniquet.
"I owe my husband's life to them," said Gerhardt's wife, Tina. "They are 100 percent my heroes."
"I can't express our gratitude," added his father, Steven A. "You can imagine how much blood you can lose with both your legs ripped off. If they hadn't had tourniqueted him, I would have been making funeral arrangements right now."
Deputy Shawn Grapes said he knew the tourniquets saved the life of his fellow officer and friend.
" We have been taught how to put it on, where to put it on. When I saw how severe his legs were, I knew that was what he needed."
At 1:30 a.m. Monday, Gerhardt was driving to help a fellow officer after receiving the report of a man fleeing on foot following in drunken-driving pursuit on Youngstown-Lockport Road in Ransomville. Gerhardt crashed on Lake Road near Ransomville Road.
Deputy Jonathan Andres was first to arrive at the crash. He said Gerhardt was following him on Lake as they drove at high speed in response to the backup call.
"I took a left on Ransomville Road. I expected to see his lights in my rear-view mirror, but then I just didn't see them anymore," said Andres. Realizing something must have happened, he turned back and discovered the crash.
He said he ran around to the driver's side door and found the guardrail had penetrated the center console, severing both of Gerhardt's legs at the knee.
"Below the knee there was nothing there," Andres said.
Andres grabbed his belt and used it as a tourniquet. Meanwhile, Grapes arrived and cut Gerhardt from his seat belt.
Grapes also grabbed the tourniquet he carried in his patrol car.
"Once we got that second tourniquet on, he actually regained consciousness," Andres said. "Right before that, Al's pulse and breathing was pretty much gone and once he got that tourniquet on, he regained his pulse and breathing."
Tina Gerhardt is a registered nurse. The couple has three children, ages 4, 9 and 14.
"I think it's going to be hard for him," his wife said of her husband. "But we are a strong family and are going to take it day by day."
"He's very strong, very healthy," said his father, who along with Gerhardt's mother, Irene, have been by the injured deputy's side.
Gerhardt's father said hundreds of officers have come to his son's room in Erie County Medical Center to support him.
The deputy's brothers, Steven and Scott, also have flown in.
Donations for the Gerhardt family are being accepted at Ontario Shores Federal Credit Union in Newfane or can be mailed to P.O. Box 9, Newfane, N.Y. 14108. Checks should be made out to the "Friends of Allen and Tina Gerhardt" account. A link with information about donations is available online at the niagarasheriff.com homepage.