LONSBERRY: In A Driveway In Greece

posted by Bob Lonsberry -

Under other circumstances, Bob Litolff and Jeffrey Fraser probably would have hit it off.

Both family men, law-and-order types, men of service who believed in giving back.

But they didn’t meet under other circumstances.

They met in the driveway at 2 in the morning, and Bob Litolff wouldn’t put the gun down.

His wife was in the house, asleep in bed. Jeffrey Fraser’s wife was in the squad car in the street, probably horrified at what was unfolding.

It’s a humble, suburban home, and the Litolffs moved in in 1983. A place where children and grandchildren would visit, where Christmas decorations would hang, and neighbors would stop by for a cup of coffee.

A place where Bob Litolff chose to die.

He had come up hard. There were a bunch of kids and when the parents divorced the year after the war they got farmed out and Bob went to St. Joseph’s Villa when he was 9. 

As an old man it was still hard for him to talk about it. But he seemed to have learned from it. 

“I’ve had a lot of help along the way,” he told the local newspaper as a St. Joseph’s volunteer later in life. “I think it’s time for me to give back.”

“Christmas was not always that great for me,” he wrote in an online comment in 2004. “I have learned to celebrate it and not selfishly think it’s all about me. It’s true, it’s better to give than receive.

“It’s a wonderful life.”

It’s too bad he didn’t feel that way in the driveway.

Instead, something had gone wrong in him and he had decided to die. 

And in the middle of a cold and lonely night, he called 9-1-1 and said he was going to kill his wife.

Squad cars came screaming from every direction, but the newlyweds got there first.

Jeffrey Fraser in his uniform and his bride in her civilian clothes. A cop and his proud wife, sharing a night in a ride along on the streets of Greece. 

They pulled up out front and Officer Fraser stepped out of the car and Bob Litolff came out of the darkness at him.

He’d gone into the Army after high school, probably just missed the Korean War, and came home to work a factory job for 30 years. The rifle wasn’t much, a Marlin .22, a plinker that cost less than $100 new. But .22s have killed a lot of people, and it was a .22 that got DiPonzio up on Dayton Street, and you can’t point a gun at a cop.

Jeffrey Fraser has been a policeman for two years, and looks like he’s been shaving for about half that time. He’s a young guy, just starting out, but in that moment and in that place he was the law, he was America, he was standing between us and a guy with a gun. And he gave a lawful order. With the big Glock drawn and ready he used his command voice to tell Bob Litolff to lower the gun.

Repeatedly. Loudly. Unmistakably.

While his wife watched from the car.

It shouldn’t have been. They should have met at church or at a parade. At the town hall or the grocery store. It should have been smiles and handshakes.

But something had gone wrong in Bob Litolff, and he was doing a terrible thing, to people he knew and people he didn’t know. Driven by an unimaginable desperation, he was about to scar his family, and the young man at the foot of his drive.

He lifted the empty gun, and pointed it at Jeffrey Fraser.

And Fraser had to fire.

He couldn’t die in front of his wife. He couldn’t leave her and this little piece of America undefended. He had given a repeated order, the man was advancing on him, and there was a rifle being pointed at him.

So he opened fire.

He shot and he shot and he shot.

It was dark and cold and Bob Litolff was maybe 30 yards away and getting closer.

There was movement and fear and the innate inaccuracy of a handgun in a moment of stress.

And the big Glock belched fire and lead. Seventeen rounds before it fell silent and Bob Litolff dropped dead, Jeffrey Fraser’s brass littering the driveway, an empty magazine at his feet.

That might have been the first combat reload by a Rochester-area cop since Johnny Vail had the shootout at the Chinese restaurant on Thurston Road 20 years ago.

Stray rounds struck the Litolff home and a tree and a house a block over. Yes, they’ll talk about this one when they do firearms training, but, no, that doesn’t change anything about this situation. And it doesn’t mean anything to a young cop’s wife who watched her husband have the worst day of his life.

It’s all a heartbreak of Bob Litolff’s doing. Were it not for sadness, the dominant emotion would be anger at a desperate man’s selfish choice. But this does end up being about sadness.

At the loss of a grandfather and husband, about the horrible legacy his death leaves for his family, about the last thing a police officer ever wants to do.

And about a newly married couple, all-American kids, doing the right thing, a nightmare forced upon them.

But at least they faced it together, and can go forward together.

Duty is a tough thing.

But we are a tough people.

A young cop proved that the other night, in a driveway up in Greece.

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