Witness: ‘Rocco clearly saved my life'; Man accused of killing K-9 officer in court

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PITTSBURGH —

The man accused of killing a Pittsburgh police K-9 officer appeared in court Wednesday.

But while John Rush stood in front of a judge on multiple charges, talks of the K-9 officer’s heroism was fresh on many officers’ minds.

Channel 11’s Alan Jennings spoke to one officer who was there the night Rush was arrested. He said the 8-year-old German shepherd saved lives.

“Rocco, though mortally wounded and bleeding profusely from his side and mouth, continued to engage Rush while he wildly swung that knife. Rocco’s bite caused Rush to finally drop the knife. Rocco clearly saved my life,” the officer said.

Rocco and his handler, Officer Philip Lerza, were among several officers who responded to a report of a suspicious man lurking near a building earlier this month, only to encounter Rush, 21, who, unbeknownst to police, was armed with a 6-inch folding knife when he dashed into the basement of a home.

According to a criminal complaint, Lerza warned Rush to shout an answer to police or face the dog. Instead, Rush lunged out from near a pillar and attacked K-9 Rocco, police said.

Police said Rush was homeless at the time of his arrest and was originally wanted on warrants for probation violations and for failing to register as a sex offender.

Rush faces as many as seven years in prison if convicted of a third-degree felony for attacking the dog and up to 20 years each for attacking four officers, including Lerza, who was stabbed in the back of his shoulder.

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