BUFFALO - Erika Webster tells her fiance, William Sager Jr., that she believes in him, the strongest person she knows. His friends tell him not to worry, that they're making sure his family's OK, the mortgage is paid and the grass is cut.
They believe he can hear them as they speak quietly at his bedside at Erie County Medical Center, where the Air National Guardsman has been in a coma with severe brain trauma since he was pushed down a flight of stairs at a pub May 11. Doctors don't know what his future holds.
"It's going to be day by day for a long time. We're hoping for a miracle," Webster said Friday. She is concentrating all her energy on the man she plans to marry in July, even as the fallout from the incident spreads through police headquarters, the bar and court.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda called a news conference Friday to say officers are now banned from working off-duty jobs at bars as investigators look into reports that two off-duty officers at Molly's dragged the unconscious Sager from the pub and handcuffed him after the fall. They've been suspended without pay.
Meanwhile, the bar's manager, Jeffrey Basil, appeared in City Court for a hearing Friday on a felony assault charge, Molly's remained closed heading into the long holiday weekend and questions remained about what led to the apparent attack.
Basil has pleaded not guilty to the felony. He was working in the bar after receiving a waiver from the state because of a previous drug conviction, and is accused of shoving the 28-year-old Sager.
Sager's father didn't want to talk about any of that Friday, keeping his focus this Memorial Day weekend on the son who was inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks to serve and who spent three months in Afghanistan with the 107th Airlift Wing.
"He excelled at everything he did from the time he was a child," William Sager Sr. said. There were multiple sports in high school and bands featuring Sager on guitar and drums.
"We just keep telling him how strong he is, how proud we are of him and that if anybody can do this it's him," Webster said.
Sager's friends have been at his bedside, too, including fellow National Guard members, who said Sager would do the same for them.
"He's always had our back and we have his back now. We're a family," said Tony Re, who served with Sager in Afghanistan. "I like to tell him not to worry, to focus on being healthy and healing, not to worry about his family because we're taking care of them. He's the type who'd be worrying about the grass being cut."
Re and others have sold T-shirts and set up a benefit fund to keep the bills paid at Sager's house. The family's also put out an appeal for information about what happened that night.
"If this is something you can come back from, he will," Re said.