Hundreds pay last respects to fallen state police trooper

PSP Trooper Stewarts funeral

Hundreds of state police personnel filled Latrobe on Tuesday to pay respects to a local trooper killed in a two-vehicle crash while on duty Friday.  Trooper Michael P. Stewart, 26, of Latrobe died in the crash between his police cruiser and a McInchok Sanitation truck on state Route 711 near Route 271 in Ligonier Township around 2:20 a.m. July 14.  Stewart's partner, Trooper Travis November, walked into the funeral Mass at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church on crutches, bandages visible on his face.  November suffered a concussion and other injuries in the accident, state police said.  Stewart's funeral was also attended by police officers from at least 20 states – including California, Maine, Michigan, Colorado, Texas and New York – along with Gov. Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Col. Tyree Blocker.  The church was filled to its capacity of 1,100, said Trooper Stephen Limani, public information officer. Some attendees were forced to sit outside and listen to the service through speakers.  "The turnout was absolutely amazing," he said.  "Our department is still reeling from Trooper Stewart's passing and we appreciate the outpouring of support from the people in the community," Limani said.  "They've been nothing but spectacular."  The Rev. Robert Byrnes, chaplain for the state police barracks in Greensburg, where Stewart was stationed, described meeting 14-year-old Stewart who was a participant in Camp Cadet.  "If God has state troopers patrolling the highways of heaven, I'm sure you'll be one of the very best," Byrnes said.  Johnstown Police Department Chief Robert Johnson, Capt. Jeff Janciga and two other Johnstown officers attended the funeral.  Johnson, who was patrol section commander at the Greensburg barracks, said he knew Stewart.  "He was a great guy," Johnson said.  "It's a loss for the entire community."  Cambria County Sheriff Bob Kolar, a retired state policeman, was at the state sheriff's conference when the news of Stewart's passing circulated.  Numerous Pennsylvania sheriffs are retired from the state police, Kolar said, and described the mood at the conference as "somber," before a moment of silence was observed in Stewart's memory.  "It hit home with a lot of us," Kolar said.  "You don't expect things like this to happen.  Anything can happen at any time."  Dan Zakraysek, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Flood City Lodge No. 86, said he was shocked to hear the news of Stewart's passing.  "It's just one of those freak accidents that happened," he said.  Zakraysek, a former Upper Yoder Township police chief, said his thoughts are also with November, who will have to cope with the loss of his partner.  "A real bond develops there between those guys," he said.  Stewart's sudden death is a reminder to officers that coming home from work isn't always a guarantee, Zakraysek added.  "Every day you go out, you don't think about it, but it's in the deep back of your mind that this could happen," he said.  Johnson said state police and law enforcement as a whole are a community that will assist Stewart's family and friends through the loss.  "It's a family like no other," he said.  "The support doesn't stop after the funeral."  During a press conference Friday, state police said Stewart and his patrol partner, November, were on routine patrol during the overnight shift, traveling southbound on Route 711, when the garbage truck driven by 26-year-old John Hissem made a left-hand turn out of a parking lot to head north.  That's when Stewart's cruiser collided with the front end of the garbage truck, Limani said, with the majority of the impact hitting where Stewart was sitting.  Westmoreland County Coroner Kenneth Bacha ruled Stewart's death as accidental and listed blunt force trauma to the head as the cause.  Stewart died on scene at 3:10 a.m., according to a release from Bacha's office.  The crash remains under investigation as state police try to determine what caused the crash and if anyone is at fault.  Stewart enlisted in the Pennsylvania State Police in January 2014 and was a member of the 138th cadet class of graduates before being assigned to the patrol unit in Troop A, Greensburg, in August 2015.   He had previously been assigned to Troop H in Chambersburg, Franklin County.  Stewart is the 98th member of the Pennsylvania State Police to be killed in the line of duty and the eighth from Troop A in Greensburg.

7/20/17

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