Hundreds pay last respects to fallen state police trooper
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.
Law enforcement from across the country come to pay their final respects for Trooper Joel R. Davis
Large crowds of people gathered in downtown Watertown to pay their final respects to slain state police Trooper Joel R. Davis. Trooper Davis was one of two killed on Sunday during a shooting incident on County Route 46,Theresa. Also killed was Nichole Walters, wife of alleged shooter Justin D. Walters. “I thought it would be the right thing to do to pay my respects,” said Stephen M. Washer II, while waiting on Public Square. Mr. Washer said Trooper Davis’s brother Joshua is a “really well respected man in the Watertown Police Department” and wished to show respect and support to the family. The procession traveled around the north side of Public Square before heading up Washington Street to Brookside Cemetery. Earlier, a crowd of hundreds of law enforcement officers and community members attended a funeral at Fort Drum’s Magrath Sports Complex. Pastor Shane Ryan, Watertown City Police officer, said Trooper Davis was a family man who protected his brother Joshua, loved his children Trenton, Caden, and Jaila and cared for his wife Suzanne. “He always knew what to do when she had a rough day, or she was stressed out,” Pastor Ryan said. He said Trooper Davis loved dancing with his children to songs from Notorious B.I.G., and playing them in mini golf. “He was the champ at that,” Pastor Ryan said. The pastor said Trooper Davis loved to have fun, recalling games of 2-on-2 football in the parking lot of a Tim Hortons. He said being there at the hospital on Sunday for the Davis family as they learned what happened “was one of the worst experiences you can imagine.” However, it reminded him that Trooper Davis, his family and grieving law enforcement were with each other in their time of sorrow. “You realize you never walk alone,” he said. State police Superintendent George P. Beach II said Trooper Davis was loved by the community, and was someone who took pride in his work. “Joel knew this was a place he could make a difference, and he was good at it,” he said. The superintendent said that Trooper Davis was dedicated to his family, at one point resigning from the state police academy to return home. “He was willing to give up his dream to be with his loved ones,” he said. Trooper Davis later returned to the academy and graduated on time with his class. Superintendent Beach praised Trooper Davis’s heroism in response to the shooting on County Route 46, Theresa, that resulted in the loss of his life. “He ran toward gunfire to protect the innocent and prevent further bloodshed,” he said. “That is a trooper. That is a hero. That is bravery.” The ceremony began with a performance of “Amazing Grace,” followed by readings from Psalm 23, the poem “The Dash” by Linda Ellis and Matthew 5:1-12. Trooper Davis’s uniform, handcuffs, patch and badge are being displayed in shadow boxes on each side of his casket, sharing space with his hats representing his time as a state trooper and Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy. A series of photos of the trooper on duty have been displayed along the wall, along with a large American flag. Prior to the ceremony, law enforcement officials spoke to media about the fallen trooper. Philip T. Rougeux, state police Troop D commander, said Trooper Davis was a hero. “He definitely saved three lives that day,” he told media assembled before the funeral. Superintendent Beach told media that he spoke to Trooper Davis’s father Friday, and added that the Davis family has appreciated the community’s support this week. He noted the trooper who arrested Walters on Sunday night had been trained by Trooper Davis. Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen M. O’Neill called Saturday a “sad day,” and said her office and Watertown city police are comforted seeing representatives at the funeral from departments across the United States and Canada. Law enforcement have come to the department from as far away as California, Utah and North Carolina. Also in attendance are representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Law enforcement in attendance gathered in formation prior to entering the gym for the funeral. Among those in attendance was Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Texters beware: Highway Patrol is rolling out new tools to catch you
Three Utah Highway Patrol troopers looked out the windows of a black 15-passenger van, searching for drivers focused on their cellphones instead of the road. Almost immediately, one trooper spotted a driver using a cellphone and alerted one of seven nearby troopers, who moved in to make a traffic stop. The van — an experiment UHP rolled out last month — headed north on Interstate 15 at 2:45 p.m. Thursday with an entourage of reporters for a four-hour effort to catch distracted drivers. While the van isn't exactly unmarked — "stop the texts, end the wrecks" is printed on its sides — it blends into traffic better than a trooper's car. And its passengers have an elevated advantage, such as seeing into cars better than troopers in vehicles lower to the ground. In general, troopers are trained to keep their heads on a near-constant swivel while they drive. And although they continue to actively look for violations, having spotters relieves some of the pressure to catch all distracted drivers. Depending on how well the experiment goes, the van may be used more regularly. By 7 p.m., seven troopers had pulled over 40 drivers. Some 26 drivers received warnings, seven others received tickets, according to public relations director Marissa Villansenor Cote. One driver heading north near Parrish Lane was pulled over without a tip from the van. "Like right there," Trooper Derek Shelby said to a Salt Lake Tribune reporter who was riding in the passenger seat. "On his cellphone." Shelby saw the man looking at his phone, holding it chest-level. The man saw Shelby, too. He and his passenger seemed caught off guard, despite driving right next to a marked UHP car. The man admitted to looking at his phone; he was expecting a text from a family member, he said, and was checking to see if he had gotten it. "I explained to him that pretty much any time you have your phone in your hand, it's a hazard," Shelby said after issuing the man a ticket. Shelby doesn't stop every seemingly distracted driver. Unless he can see the phone, he waits to decide whether they aren't paying enough attention to the road. For example, a man who glanced down multiple times while driving near Bountiful. "Like him, he just looked down. He's looking down again. Looking down again. Looks down again," Shelby said, deciding whether to make a traffic stop. He decided against it, because "there are certain things you can do with your phone." For example, GPS. Shelby hesitates to stop people when he can't see their phones, in case their glances are just to check directions. Not everyone who uses their phone gets pulled over; troopers want to make sure "without a doubt" people are breaking the law first, said Lt. Cory Nye, one of the spotters in the van. Utah Code prohibits using a "handheld wireless communication," such as a cellphone, to "write, send, or read text or data" while driving. Law enforcement can't pull someone over for just talking on the phone or use GPS while driving, though it can be a secondary offense, but texting alone could land drivers a class C misdemeanor and a fine. In 2016, troopers pulled over 369 drivers for texting while driving during operations in which officers specifically targeted distracted drivers, according to an annual UHP report. Statistics on total distracted-driving citations for 2016 were not immediately available. "But we all know, driving down the road every day, we can see people on their phones, distracted as they're driving," said Lt. Beau Mason. As rush hour began on Thursday, traffic picked up and drivers slowed down and more phones came out. "The beginning of rush hour. The fun begins," Nye said. Ten seconds later: "There's a guy right there." Drivers to the right and left of the van had phones pulled out; one driver looking at his phone had two children buckled in the back seat. Another driver put his phone on the dashboard when he noticed he'd caught a trooper's attention. Some drivers didn't notice the big black van at all. At least twice before 4:45 p.m., the van pulled to the side of the road to wait, as all seven troopers were occupied with distracted drivers. "See, when speeds slow down, people start figuring they can do other things other than driving," Nye said, as he pointed out a woman looking through her purse while she drove. One trooper pulled over a semi driver who had a fold-out map stretched across his lap. It's the second day UHP has taken the spotter van out. UHP tried the van out for the first time last month in Utah County. And officials intend to continue to use it when they can. The troopers will analyze how Thursday's operation went and decide when they can schedule another spotting event. "We'd like to see it keep going," Nye said. But that will depend on resources, such as time, money and available troopers. Anecdotally, Nye said he has seen an increase in distracted driving in his 19 years on the force. A lot of the distractions he sees are phones, but he sees people applying makeup and eating cereal, as well. Not everyone gets a ticket; it's up to the trooper's discretion. "Most troopers are going to watch and see [if they] are a hazard to others, and they address accordingly," Mason said.
State: Police out in force July 17-23 to prevent traffic fatalities
Law enforcement across Alabama and the Southeast will be out in July 17-23 as part of a special traffic campaign to reduce the number of crashes by enforcing basic highway safety laws. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is teaming up with authorities for Operation Southern Shield — a joint effort between five Southern states— to crack down on motorists who ignore the major factors in automobile crashes and deaths – speeding, impaired and distracted driving and not wearing a seat belt, according to an Alabama State Trooper press release. The campaign is sandwiched between other major highway safety campaigns and is being conducted in response to the high volume of traffic with summer traveling and vacations. The campaign’s goal is to achieve a period of zero fatalities. “Summer is a time when families come together for fun, not funerals, and Gov. Ivey’s goal is to increase safety on Alabama’s highways,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell. “Gov. Ivey and ADECA wholeheartedly endorse this effort and urge drivers to at all times to slow down, wear your seat belts and pay attention to the road.” ADECA’s Law Enforcement and Traffic Safety Division is working with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and police and sheriffs’ departments throughout the state to step up efforts to provide high-visibility of law enforcement and take unsafe drivers off the road. ADECA administers grant funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that pays overtime for officers to conduct extra patrols during special campaigns like Operation Southern Shield at hotspots where traffic crashes often occur. The safety campaign is also being conducted in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee, which along with Alabama, make up the NHTSA’s Southeast enforcement region. Speed is the number one cause of driving fatalities in Alabama. In 2015, speed was determined to be a factor in 28 percent of the fatal crashes; 63 percent of the victims were not wearing seat belts, and 43 percent of the drivers had been drinking.