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Officer helps arrest man he helped save years ago

Eighteen years ago, a Brockton police officer arrived at the scene of a house fire and found himself cradling 18-month-old Wilfredo Rivera, who was unconscious and burned from head to toe.

This week, the same officer, Walter McGuinness, watched as the 19-year-old Rivera was sentenced to jail for several crimes, including assaulting an elderly woman.

The officer who had saved the boy had later helped arrest the man.

"It was like I was adding to his misery," said McGuinness, 61, a 28-year police veteran who plans to retire next month.

When the two first met, the Blizzard of '78 was pummelling the region. It was Feb. 8, and McGuinness and his partner were called to a fire at a public housing apartment.

By the time the officers arrived, a neighbor had pulled Rivera and his brother, Elliot, then 3{, from their burning crib. Their parents were not home.

McGuinness grabbed Wilfredo, his partner scooped up Elliot and together they ran through hip-deep snow to the cruiser. The children's hair had been completely singed, and they were so still they looked dead, said McGuinness, who now lives in Westport.

"It's something you don't forget," he said Wednesday.

On March 4, 1994 _ another snowy day _ McGuinness responded to a call that two men had knocked down an elderly woman and had stolen her purse.

On his way to the scene, McGuinness saw the two suspects speeding off in a stolen car. He chased them, stopping when they slammed into a snowbank.

One man was caught and is serving an 8- to 15-year sentence. The other, Wilfredo Rivera, ran. He was picked up two weeks later on the arrest warrant McGuinness issued.

Tuesday, Rivera pleaded guilty in Brockton District Court to assault, drug possession and other charges. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail.