By Lou Michel
The Buffalo News
LOCKPORT, N.Y. — In the dead of a summer night 20 years ago, Lockport Police Officer Steven L. Biles sent out a desperate radio call for help.
"I've been shot!"
Officers raced to his assistance in a remote section of the city just after 3 a.m., but one officer never made it.
Niagara County Sheriff's Deputy Jeffrey A. Incardona's patrol car struck a utility pole and burst into flames. The 29-year-old father of three burned to death.
Biles suffered two bullet wounds to his left leg and a third to his abdomen but recovered.
Then weeks later, Biles became a suspect in his own shooting.
The shooting that indirectly cost Incardona his life was never solved. Now new developments have emerged, prompting FBI agents and local police to reopen the case with the hope of at last making an arrest.
Law enforcement officials say interviews are being conducted with individuals who have information about what happened on July 22, 1993, when Biles said he pulled up behind what he thought was a disabled car and was shot.
In the weeks following the shooting, Biles emerged as the main suspect in his own shooting and over the course of two decades, that status has not changed, according to the law enforcement officials, as they renew the investigation.
The five-year statute of limitations for state assault charges expired years ago, but the officials say that it may be possible to bring federal charges in the case, if wrongdoing can be proven.
Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour, Lockport Police Chief Lawrence Eggert and the FBI all declined to discuss the new investigation.
"As the sheriff, I owe it to his family and friends to get the truth of what happened on July 22, 1993," said Voutour, who was hired by the Niagara County Sheriff's Office a month after Incardona's death to fill his vacancy.
The Lockport Police Department has tried at different times over the years to find answers in the shooting, Eggert said.
"There has always been a kind of tainting on the department since then," Eggert said. "Most of the information we received back then lacked credibility. But I also knew Jeff Incardona. The fact that he passed away coming to the aid of a Lockport police officer made it a very important case for us to try and get some closure. We'd all like to get to the bottom of it, not only for us, but for the family of Jeff Incardona."
Incardona's survivors say they also want answers.
"I don't know if the word 'interesting' is the right one, but it would be interesting to see if there was something still out there," said Sam Incardona, the 75-year-old father of the late deputy. "Closure would be better to have after 20 years."
Circumstances pointing to Biles as the cause of his own shooting include:
— Only his fingerprint was found on the discarded gun recovered a short time after the shooting in a field off Elmwood Avenue. Investigators interviewed Biles several times but he never mentioned touching the gun. When investigators told him his fingerprint was on the 80-year-old .38-caliber handgun, he revised his account to say he must have instinctively pushed the gun away, although he had no recollection of having done that.
— The angle at which the bullets struck Biles did not line up with the position of a shooter in the backseat of the vehicle the officer had described to investigators.
— A witness to the shooting told police that the attack against Biles was drug-related, with the officer allegedly requesting protection money from a drug dealer. Authorities have never released the name of the witness, but described him as part of a Niagara County drug ring.
When contacted by phone at his retirement home in Florida, Biles, now 59, said he is not surprised to hear a new investigation is being conducted and welcomed it. He said he hopes that, at long last, authorities will determine what he has maintained all along -- that he was never involved in corrupt behavior and was doing his job the night he was shot.
He said the person who shot him never has been identified, and the statute of limitations for the assault charge that could have been lodged has long lapsed.
"If there was anything left untouched, I would hope they would investigate. You follow up everything," Biles said. "Regardless of the statute of limitations, it would still be nice to have your name cleared."
After retiring to Florida on a disability pension in the mid-1990s, Biles said he was able to fulfill his dream of becoming a security guard at Disney World, though he later changed jobs and worked as a construction supervisor.
Continued health problems with his left leg, where one of the bullets remains lodged, prompted him to fully retire, he said.
"It is very difficult to walk and very painful," he said.
Biles said that he is willing to speak publicly about what happened on that July night 20 years ago because the suspicions about him are false.
"I don't know anything about that," he said of rumors about bribes and drug dealers. "There's no sense in hiding anything when there is nothing to hide."
Jeffrey D. Incardona, 27, said he hasheard different stories about what happened the night his father died responding to the call of Biles' being shot.
"Obviously, I was young at the time it happened. But as the years passed, I've heard different things. It is surprising this is happening after all these years," he said of the investigation.
Though it was a long time ago, Sam Incardona says he has never stopped thinking about his son, who would show up for breakfast at his home at the conclusion of a midnight shift to share with him and Barbara, his mother, the humorous and sometimes tragic events police encounter.
"The first time Jeff ever had his name in the paper, it was when he was called up to Pendleton to round up a llama that was on the loose," Sam Incardona said. "When he went up to it, the thing spit in his face. Another morning he came over and told us about a motorcycle that hit a truck head on. I worried about Jeff, knowing he was in a difficult job." Pulling out his tri-fold wallet, he showed a photograph of a young deputy whose clean-shaven face wore a determined expression.
"I think of Jeff every day. When I open my wallet, he's there."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2013 The Buffalo News