Family mourns 10 years after slaying of Eastchester cop — (LOHUD Journal News)

Original article no longer available

LOHUD Journal News

By RICHARD LIEBSON, rliebson@lohud.com,  THE JOURNAL NEWS

March 21, 2006

Fundraiser planned for Frey Scholarship Foundation

The Eastchester Police Benevolent Association will host “Pasta Night — A Night of Italian Cuisine” to benefit the Michael Frey Scholarship Foundation at 7 p.m. Saturday at Immaculate Conception School. In addition to food, the event will feature raffles and door prizes donated by local businesses. The cost is $30 for adults, $20 for senior citizens and $10 for children 12 and under. The school is at White Plains and Winterhill roads in Tuckahoe. For more information, call 914-961-3464.I was a lieutenant then and he worked on my squad. They called it the ‘kiddie tour’ because all of the guys were young. He was a lot of fun to work with because he was always smiling, always playing jokes.

It was a routine call in a town where crime was low and violence was all but unheard of. A resident reported that there was someone on his property, and Officer Michael Frey was dispatched to check it out.

Frey, a hometown boy who had been a New York City police officer for about three years before transferring to Eastchester in 1989, never made it out of his car.

As soon the police cruiser stopped in front of the 17 Morgan St. home 10 years ago today, Richard Sacchi Jr., crouching near a second-floor window, opened fire with a high-powered rifle.

Frey was hit in the heart and died instantly. Officer Richard Morrisey, arriving about the same time, was grazed by a bullet to the head.

When it was over, after an almost 15-hour police siege, Sacchi had killed his dog, his grandmother and himself — and broken a community’s heart.

“It was the end of innocence for Eastchester,” said Tim Bonci, who was a lieutenant 10 years ago and is now chief of the department. “This was something that you just never thought could happen here. A day or two later I was sitting with my 3-year-old son in my lap, staring out the window. It was a bright, sunny morning. I remember telling my son that the world is different out there today than it was yesterday.”

A decade after the 29-year-old Frey became the town’s only police officer to die in the line of duty, hundreds of police officers, friends and relatives are expected to attend a memorial service at Immaculate Conception Church in Tuckahoe today. Frey was an altar boy and a grade school student there. He got married there. He was eulogized there.

Those who knew him say the memorial is important, but Frey, and what happened to him, have never been forgotten.

Nowhere is that more evident than at police headquarters, where visitors pass a flagpole with a monument to Frey and step into a lobby covered with photos, plaques and other reminders.

In the basement, Frey’s locker, bearing a New York Jets sticker, remains almost untouched, except for the prayer cards, rosary beads and pictures placed there by his friends. One photo shows a West Virginia police car featuring the blue and white “Thank a Police Officer in Honor of Michael Frey” bumper sticker that has become a familiar sight throughout the Lower Hudson Valley over the years.

There are plaques and photos in the hallways and most offices and at the front desk, where last week dispatcher Christine Kellaher was busy planning the annual “Pasta Night” dinner that raises money for the Michael Frey Scholarship Foundation.

“All you have to do is say it involves Michael Frey, and every business in town wants to be involved,” she said. “The community support is still there, even after all of these years.”

Kellaher described “Mike” as “a real fun-loving guy, a real practical joker,” and recalled how he once filled another officer’s locker with water and on several occasions poured powder into police car air-conditioning vents so that when the car was started, the driver got dusted. “He was always fooling around, but it was never anything malicious or hurtful, and he was absolutely the first person to laugh at himself.”

Less than an hour before he was killed, Frey was laughing with his mother, Eileen Frey, after stopping by her house for a quick visit.

“He’d been taking karate lessons and he was fooling around, saying he wanted to show me his new moves,” she remembered. “He’s jumping and twirling around, and I told him I was going to smack him with my macaroni spoon.”

Eileen Frey, who wears a necklace with small replicas of her son’s Eastchester and New York police badges, said that when Michael first joined the New York Police Department, “I kept telling him to get out of the city because it was too dangerous. I was so happy when he got the job in Eastchester because I thought he would be safe.”

Richard Sacchi Jr., 26, had been scheduled to report to Rikers Island jail to do time on a menacing conviction the day after he sprayed his street with gunfire. Sacchi had led a troubled life with an escalating pattern of violence and scrapes with police. As a teenager, he had been accused of holding a knife to a 9-year-old neighbor’s throat and of brandishing a broken bottle at teachers. In 1989, he was banned from the Galleria mall in White Plains for an unspecified offense.

Sacchi had been convicted of five misdemeanors since 1987. Shortly after the killings, a friend said that Sacchi was unemployed, afraid of going to jail, distraught over marital problems and having trouble quitting the antidepressant drug Prozac.

In the hours before the shootings, Sacchi left messages on friends’ answering machines, saying that he was going to kill himself and asking that they come to his funeral. He apparently killed himself and his grandmother, Catherine Sacchi, shortly after shooting Frey, although the hundreds of police from throughout the region who surrounded the house had no way of knowing that.

In the early morning hours, a camera-equipped armored robot was sent into the house and Catherine Sacchi’s body was found at the bottom of the stairs. When police went in a short time later, they found Sacchi’s body in his bed, along with six rifles and shotguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

A few messages were found scrawled in pencil on his bedroom walls: “My Dad is the best Dad in the World,” “Jesus forgive me for my sins” and “I will see you in eternity.” Police said Sacchi had laid out a gray suit and left a note asking that it be used in his funeral.

Sacchi’s family has since moved away and could not be located for comment. Morrisey, who has never spoken publicly about the shootings, also could not be reached.

Frey’s family and friends do not talk much about how he was killed, preferring instead to remember how he lived and what his life continues to mean to his hometown.

“He was killed trying to help,” said Westchester County Legislator Vito Pinto, a longtime family friend who was on the Eastchester Town Board at the time. “He’d been on the New York City Police Department and he transferred here because he was a hometown guy. His death highlighted the need for cooperation among police agencies and for special equipment and training, but more importantly in some ways, I think it made people stop and appreciate police and the job they do. I still have the bumper sticker on my car, because it’s important. Thank a police officer. I can’t say it strongly enough.”

Marilyn Mazzella, who grew up with Frey and married him in 1994, said her former husband “would think it’s the greatest thing on Earth, the way he’s still remembered and how his death touched the town.”

“I can still remember exactly what I was wearing that day, what I was doing and how I felt,” said Mazzella, who has since remarried and now has three young daughters. “It feels like yesterday, but you look around and you realize that it really has been 10 years. The fact that so many people still remember him and talk about him and miss him, I think that’s his legacy.”

Shortly after his brother’s death, Al Frey became active in New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and campaigned for tighter gun control. In 1997, he was on hand when Gov. George Pataki came to Eastchester Town Hall to sign legislation that required pistol permits to be renewed every five years. Al Frey remains active as a member of the organization’s advisory board.

“Mike’s death changed our lives 180 degrees,” Al Frey said. “It made me aware of the craziness — that anybody can walk into a store and buy a gun. And it definitely has made all of us appreciate the police more. Now you realize the danger they face every day, no matter where they work.”

The Freys and Mazzella agreed that today would be a tough one emotionally, but said they were proud that so many people were planning to attend the public memorial service. And they agreed that when it’s over, the people who were closest to him will most likely end up at Al Frey’s tavern, The Eastchester Inn, to tell the old stories late into the night and to raise a glass or two in his memory.

“It’s 10 years later and everyone still honors my son,” Eileen Frey said, a mixture of pride, wonder and melancholy in her voice. “He must have been a good kid.”