Shooting victim James M. Reif Jr. impressed former colleagues at the Broome County, N.Y., Sheriff's Department as a guy who overcame a disability to become a successful businessman.

"That was the way he was driven," said a former partner, deputy Jon Ayers. "If he had his eyes set on something, he was going to be the best he could be."

Reif, 42, had recently moved with his wife - a high school sweetheart - and four teenage children from Endicott to a new house he had built in Union, a town of about 46,000.

Their house was not far from where Reif attended high school with two other men who were slain at the Philadelphia Navy Yard late Tuesday.

"We're just devastated," said Deputy Leo Skiba, another former partner. "What can I say?"

Ayers and Skiba each served with Reif on the graveyard shift in the mid-1990s. As young, aspiring deputies, they shared a squad car, dreams and, usually, breakfast four mornings a week at the Spot Restaurant. On Saturdays, they ate at Yonda's.

"Italian sausages at Yonda's over in Binghamton," Skiba said. "That was our happy hour."

Reif liked to tell jokes, but he was comfortable laughing at himself, friends said.

Recalled Ayers: "Jim wasn't much of a drinker. If he did, it was a girly drink like a Seabreeze. We used to tease him about it."

Said Skiba: "We called him 'high-pockets' because he had such a short torso and long legs - like one of the pictures with an old man and pants pulled up high. Jim laughed along with us."

Skiba was with Reif on the night Reif injured his leg on the job. He fell through a deck on the back of a Union home while responding to a burglary call. Despite several surgeries, Reif never fully recovered.

"Even after his accident, he kept a bubbly personality," Sheriff David E. Harder recalled. "And he wasn't one of those people you hear about who take disability. Jim's wasn't a fake injury."

He became a DARE officer, known to kids as "Deputy Jim," said Barbara Osborn, the sheriff's administrative assistant.

After Reif left the department on disability, he and Harder remained friends, even in 1998, when they opposed each other for sheriff in the Republican primary.

"Jim was a gentleman," the sheriff said. "He came to my victory party."

Despite their friendship, the sheriff and the deputies said they did not know the details of Reif's businesses after he left the force, including his work for a local coffee chain.

Reif met his future wife, Sue, in high school, while working at his father's business, a bar located above Manner House Lanes, the bowling alley, Skiba said.

He and Sue had four children, now age 10 to 19.

"The family is having a rough time," Ayers said. "He had made it through 10 or so years as a cop, so this is pretty hard."

Contact staff writer John Shiffman at 215-854-2658 or