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Nearly killed on the job, trooper to honor fallen officers in bike tour

Ligonier Borough resident Dean Kerklo is, first and foremost, a survivor.

This Pennsylvania state trooper has seen plenty of grief in his 44 years, but he will not let it overwhelm him.

In May, Trooper Kerklo will take part in the 2010 Police Unity Tour. He will ride a bicycle with hundreds of fellow law enforcement officers from northern New Jersey to Washington, D.C., to raise funds for the National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Fund and Museum. They will carry with them the memories of fallen comrades.

Trooper Kerklo, Pittsburgh Lt. Reyne Kacsuta and Aspinwall officer Shawn McMinn announced their involvement with the cause recently at South Allegheny Middle School.

It was a special day for Trooper Kerklo, a Liberty Borough native and 1984 South Allegheny High School graduate. But it was one that almost did not occur.

A little more than a decade ago, he was nearly slain in the line of duty.

Lombardo named Trooper of the Year

The International Association of Chiefs of Police has named trooper Robert Lombardo of the state police Swiftwater barracks as the 2010 IACP/Motorola Trooper of the Year.

Troopers are nominated by their comrades and those nominations are submitted to the IACP, which then reviews information about each nominee before deciding whom will be named Trooper of the Year.

One of four finalists chosen from state and provincial police agencies in the U.S. and Canada, Lombardo was honored at a March 12 ceremony in Alexandria, Va. The other finalists were from Alabama, Michigan and California.

On June 7, 2009, Lombardo, fellow state trooper Joshua Miller and other police were led on a high-speed chase that ended on Route 611, just south of Coolbaugh Elementary Center in Coolbaugh Township. Police boxed in a car driven by Daniel Autenrieth, 31, of Palmer Township, who had a gun and his kidnapped 9-year-old son with him in the car.


Family Honors Fallen PA State Trooper, Donates Breathalyzers to State Police

Although he only briefly served the Pennsylvania State Police, Trooper Kenton E. Iwaniec continues to make an impact nearly two years after his tragic death.

Kenton graduated from the State Police Academy in December 2007. He was then assigned to the Avondale Barracks in Chester County. Three months later on March 27, 2008, he finished his shift and was on his way home on Route 41.

He’d only driven two miles from the barracks, when his Hyundai Sedan was struck head-on by an impaired driver in a Chevy Tahoe at 10:15 p.m. He was flown to Christiana Hospital in Delaware, where he passed away during surgery two hours later, his family wrote on his memorial webpage.

The woman who operated the Chevy Tahoe had a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.34 percent, which was four times the legal limit. In addition, she had 40 nanograms of Oxycodone in her system.


Pa. State Police Get Computerized Ticket-Writing

Pennsylvania state troopers have begun to issue computer-generated traffic citations.

It won’t take the sting out of a speeding ticket, but Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Jack Lewis says the first thing motorists will notice with electronic citations is that they’ll be on their way quicker.

Lewis says that heretofore, it’s taken about 15 minutes for a trooper to produce a citation:

“However, in doing some pilot tests for this particular program, we found that the troopers could just about cut in half the time they spent preparing the citation. So that’s a good thing — get the car back on the road, get the trooper back on the road so they can resume their patrol duties. There are always dangers when cars are on the side of the road.”

And Lewis says that motorists will receive a citation created by a computer printer, instead of one filled out by hand, so no more excuses about not being able to read it.

By Tony Romeo


‘Shop With a Cop’: State police give back to kids

The first of what’s hoped to be many Shop With a Cop outings occurred Monday at the Mt. Pleasant Wal-Mart.

The state police at Greensburg recently joined with multiple police departments and local Wal-Mart locations to reach out to children of unfortunate circumstances this past year to receive presents a little early.

Trooper Jason Swope of the state police at Greensburg looks over workout equipment with James Povlik of Scottdale for the first Shop With a Cop program at the Mt. Pleasant Wal-Mart. Mark Hofmann/Daily Courier

“This is the first year for this, but my interest is to have it grow,” said Trooper Stephen Limani, public information officer with the state police at Greensburg, who said the program allows children to have a meet and greet with a local police officer. The children then accompany the police officer throughout the store to purchase $50 in items not including electronics.

Limani said children will be able to exchange items for other items or for different sizes if they purchased clothing, but cannot exchange items for cash.

For this first year, Limani said he was able to have Shop With a Cop events at four Wal-Mart locations including Mt. Pleasant, Latrobe, Greensburg and Delmont.

Each Wal-Mart has donated $200 gift cards for the children to use, and along with an extra $200 from another business owner in Latrobe, a total of 20 children were able to shop at those Wal-Mart locations.

“Wal-Mart went out of their way to make this happen,” said Limani, who was just recently appointed to the Greensburg barracks.

Bob Mathers, store manager of the Mt. Pleasant Wal-Mart, said that an earlier jump next year will yield more children receiving gift cards for the program. Yesterday, he allowed all four children to pick out and take a coat at no charge in addition to the $50 gift certificate.

Limani said anyone interested in donating or participating in the Shop With a Cop program may call 724-832-6485.

By Mark Hofmann


Retired state trooper retells 9/11 scene in Shanksville

 	    John Rock, retired lieutenant of the Pennsylvania State Police Somerset barracks, shares his story of securing the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville on 9/11 during a presentation at the Valley Senior Citizens Center in Laughlintown. Barry Reeger/Tribune-Review

John Rock, retired lieutenant of the Pennsylvania State Police Somerset barracks, shares his story of securing the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville on 9/11 during a presentation at the Valley Senior Citizens Center in Laughlintown. Barry Reeger/Tribune-Review

The airplane that circled overhead sent fear through John Rock.

It was Sept. 11, 2001, and Rock, then a sergeant at the state police barracks in Uniontown, was in the woods where pieces of hijacked United Flight 93 landed after it crashed into the Somerset County countryside.

Turns out, the plane was carrying United Airlines executives who wanted to survey the crash site.

Rock, a Hempfield resident and a retired state police lieutenant, spoke about his experiences on 9/11 and beyond to a group gathered Thursday morning at the Valley Senior Citizens’ Center in Laughlintown.

As the events unfolded that fateful day, a call came into the station. A plane had crashed near Shanksville. Rock was told to get as many troopers as he could to the site, as fast as he could.

Within an hour, Rock and a contingent of 30 troopers descended on the crash site in Stonycreek Township, joining troopers from Somerset and other emergency responders. As they arrived, they gathered at the top of a hill overlooking the scene.

“We didn’t see anything,” Rock said. “It was just an empty field, and we said, ‘Where is it?’ They said, ‘It’s there. That’s all that’s left.’”

“There” was a 20-foot-deep crater with the imprint of the plane’s wings and body. Small pieces of debris were scattered in the crater and in the surrounding woods. Trees smoldered from the fire caused by the crash.

“It actually went straight into the ground,” Rock said. “… You would think you would see big pieces of the airplane. You didn’t.”

Rock was put in charge of securing the crash site. Troopers from all over Pennsylvania as well as federal authorities soon arrived. A mobile command unit was set up. Food, water and clothing were trucked in for the troopers.

“I had no idea they had closed down the whole country, because I was stuck in the woods,” he said.

Eight years later, there are moments that stick with Rock: the wallet he came across that held a passenger’s family photos; the smell of the jet fuel on his boots; the day victims’ families were brought in to view the scene.

“Sometimes, I don’t think I’ll ever get over it,” he said.


Troopers’ sacrifice is honored

State police Sgt. James A. Seerey was described as being one of the finest horsemen in Pennsylvania.

He was practicing for the annual state police rodeo with his horse, Bullet, on Sept. 10, 1934, by jumping over a vehicle, a stunt he successfully performed hundreds of times, according to The Times Leader archives.

During the exercise, the horse landed awkwardly, causing Seerey to fall on his head. He died eight hours later at Nesbitt Memorial Hospital in Kingston.

Seerey and nine other local troopers killed in the line of duty were honored during a memorial service at the state police Wyoming barracks on Monday. Statewide, 91 troopers have been killed in the line of duty.

The event also recognized 104 years of state police service.

Lt. Richard Krawetz read the names of the 10 troopers – John Garcia, William J. Omlor, Edwin F. Haas, Welles G. Hamond, Arthur A. Koppenhaver, Seerey, Floyd W. Maderia, John J. Broski, George J. Yashur Jr. and Thomas M. Kobeski – during the ceremony.

Luzerne County Detective Lt. Chris Lynch played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes as a wreath was laid to honor those killed.

“We’re here to honor those who were killed in the line of duty. These men gave the ultimate sacrifice to make us a little safer,” said keynote speaker Lt. Thomas Pavlick. “We have a tough job as peacemakers. We can’t forget the men who came before us.”

State police Chaplain Daniel Hitchko provided the invocation and benediction, and retired Capt. Nicholas Kordilla offered remarks about the pride of being a trooper.

Dying in line of duty

According to The Times Leader archives, 10 local Pennsylvania troopers have died in the line of duty.

Private John Garcia, 30, was shot and killed when arresting a person in Jenkins Township on Feb. 21, 1909.

Private William J. Omlor was killed when he lost control of his motorcycle near Pottsville on Oct. 24, 1923.

Sgt. Edwin F. Haas, 35, was accidentally shot and killed on Oct. 17, 1924.

Patrolman William G. Hamond, 23, was killed when he lost control of his motorcycle while traveling to the Luzerne County Courthouse on July 13, 1930.

Patrolman Arthur A. Koppenhaver died on July 13, 1930, from injuries from a motorcycle accident on Main Street, Nanticoke, on April 21, 1930.

First Sgt. James A. Seerey, 41, died from a fractured skull suffered in an accident involving a horse on Sept. 10, 1934.

Private Floyd W. Maderia, 34, was involved in a vehicle accident near Minooka on Dec. 10, 1934, and died the next day from injuries.

Private John J. Broski, 40, was shot during a robbery at the Boulevard Inn, East End Boulevard, Wilkes-Barre, on Aug. 14, 1937.

Private George J. Yashur Jr., 25, died when struck by a vehicle while directing traffic on Market Street, Kingston, during a flood on April 1, 1940.

Trooper Thomas M. Kobeski, 39, died of a heart attack after a court hearing in Pittston on May 3, 2002.


PA State Troopers recognized

Eight Pennsylvania state troopers serving in Luzerne County received promotions earlier this week, State Police Commissioner Frank E. Pawlowski said in a press release.

All the promotions occurred during ceremonies held at Founders Hall of Milton Hershey School.

Four local troopers were among the 50 members promoted to Corporal

• Joseph M. Gober, a trooper since 1998, will remain with the Bureau of Forensic Services

• William Gross, of Troop P in Tunkhannock, a trooper since 1994, will be transferred to Troop M in Trevose.

• Robert A. Rodzinak of Troop R in Blooming Grove, a trooper since 1993, will be transferred to Troop L in Reading.

• Corey D. Wetzel, of Troop N in Hazleton, a trooper since 1999, will be transferred to Troop L in Reading.

Another four local troopers were among the 17 members promoted to Sergeant.

• Floyd P. Bowen, a trooper since 1991, will remain with the Bureau of Forensic Services.

• Jason G. Reznick, of Troop N in Hazleton, a trooper since 1995, will be transferred to Troop M in Fogelsville.

• Charles G. Sands, a trooper since 1992, will remain with Troop P in Wyoming.

• Andrew F. Wilk, of the Bureau of Training and Education, a trooper since 1995, will be transferred to Troop M in Bethlehem.


PA State Police support Project Blue Light for the holiday season

The Pennsylvania State Police and a national organization are encouraging the public to show support for law enforcement officers and families of officers killed in the line of duty by participating in Project Blue Light during the holiday season.

“We are asking citizens and businesses to include blue lights in their holiday decorations, place a single blue light in a window, or tie blue ribbons on car antennas as a way of honoring our fallen and active officers,” said Commissioner Frank E. Pawlowski.

Project Blue Light was developed by Concerns of Police Survivors Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Camdenton, Mo., which represents more than 15,000 families of officers killed in the line of duty.

“The color blue is symbolic of peace,” Pawlowski said. “By displaying blue lights, you will be sending a dual message – that you support America’s peacekeepers and that you hope the coming year will be a year of peace.”

Additional information about COPS is available at www.nationalcops.org.

Ninety-one members of the Pennsylvania State Police have been killed in the line of duty since the department was established in 1905.


High-Visibility Vests Enhance Safety for State Police When Working on Busy Roadways

Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank E. Pawlowski said troopers and motor carrier enforcement officers have an added measure of protection now that they have new, high-visibility safety vests to wear when directing traffic and carrying out other duties on busy roadways.

Trooper James Ford wearing high visibility vest

Trooper James Ford wearing high visibility vest

“Working on busy roads can be very dangerous. These bright yellow vests will enhance safety because they can be spotted easily by drivers from a distance,” said Pawlowski, who added that a study by the Emergency Responder Safety Institute found that about 50 police officers, firefighters and rescue personnel have been struck by vehicles while performing duties along roads this year.
“Troopers who direct traffic, investigate crashes, conduct safety checkpoints, and handle lane closures are expected to wear these vests,” said Pawlowski. “While the new vests will improve visibility, it is still essential for every driver to slow down and proceed with caution when encountering any emergency vehicle stopped along the road.”
About 3,000 vests were distributed last month to members of the department’s patrol units, collision analysis and reconstruction specialist units, forensic service units and motor carrier enforcement units. Another 2,800 vests are expected to be purchased during 2009 so that every trooper and motor carrier enforcement officer has a vest.
Federal regulations that took effect last month require anyone working along a highway to wear a high-visibility vest that meets the requirements of the American National Standards Institute/International Equipment Association.
The vests, which cost $43 each, are being purchased with federal grant funds.



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