LAKEWOOD — A veteran patrolman died Thursday on Interstate 90 after being struck while conducting a traffic stop.
Ohio Highway Patrol Trooper Kenny Velez, 48, of Lorain, was struck outside of his patrol vehicle along Interstate 90 at 12:52 p.m., according to a news release from the patrol.
The crash, which occurred west of the Alger Road overpass near mile post 164, caused traffic backups on I-90.
Unmarked police vehicles, state trooper SUVs, ODOT trucks and a firetruck could be seen in the westbound lanes of I-90 as troopers took measurements and prepared to have a black vehicle towed which a bystander said was involved in the accident. Velez’s cruiser was on the berm as those investigating gathered in front of it while the roadway was sprayed with a fire hose.
Lakewood police blocked on-ramps, and traffic through Lakewood and Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood was bottlenecked as westbound commuters made their way through side streets.
“This is a tragedy for the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Department of Public Safety,” Col. Paul Pride, the patrol’s superintendent, said in a statement. “Our prayers go out to the Velez family during this difficult time.”
Numerous attempts to contact patrol officials were unsuccessful. It is unclear if anyone will be charged in the incident.
A major loss
David Velez, Kenneth Velez’s brother, said the loss is hard on the entire family.
“He was a good father, and he loved his three kids,” he said.
David Velez said his brother’s oldest son is serving in the U.S. Air Force in South Korea and is making arrangements to return home. His daughter is attending Kent State University and his youngest son is a sophomore at Amherst Marion L. Steele High School.
It was announced on Twitter that students attending the Marion L. Steele/Berea-Midpark football game in Amherst tonight are planning to wear blue in memory of Velez at the game.
David Velez said his brother played baseball at Southview High School when he was younger and ended up coaching his kids’ teams, something he enjoyed.
Retired Trooper A.J. Torres said Velez, who previously worked at the Elyria and Medina patrol posts, loved sports and the two were in the same fantasy football league.
“Kenny was awesome,” Torres said. “He was always funny, always trying to crack jokes.”
Torres said he and Velez met when he was working at the State Fair as a trooper and Velez was a cadet and they have been like brothers ever since.
“Once you join the patrol, it’s like a brotherhood,” Torres said.
He said the loss of his best friend, who was also the godfather of his son, was “devastating.” Torres said his own son is preparing to entire the academy to begin training as a trooper and he and Velez were already planning a graduation party.
David Velez said his brother loved being a trooper and was only three days away from being eligible to retire. Torres said Kenneth Velez may have been approaching retirement, but wasn’t quite there yet.
“He was looking forward to retirement, but still felt he had a little more left,” he said.
Memories of Kenneth
Ken Waldrup said he lost his “big brother” Thursday afternoon.
“We weren’t blood, but I considered him a big brother,” the 41-year-old Amherst resident said. “I saw him as family, and I know a lot of other people considered him family as well. It’s just devastating.”
Waldrup said although he works out of state at a Ford plant in Louisville, Ky., he and Velez would still meet regularly to watch games together. Waldrup drives to Kentucky each week but still lives in Amherst.
“He was seven years older than me, but I just looked up to him so much,” he said. “I took a job at Ford because I had tried for five years to be a trooper and he was training for the academy when I met him. I met him when I was 15 years old and wanted to be just like him.”
David Vaughn Jr., who owns D and A Towing in South Amherst, said he was saddened by the news of Velez’s death and wanted to make sure motorists learn from it.
“People need to move over and slow down when they see the lights on the road,” Vaughn said. “There are so many troopers and operators killed every year because of things like this. It shouldn’t be a law because it should just be common sense.”
Vaughn said he had known Velez since he became a trooper and because of the nature of their professions, they spent a lot of time together.
“Especially during the winter time, we would see more of each other than our own families just because of how many accidents we would have to be at together,” he said. “I’m just so tired of losing friends to something like this. It’s so senseless. I’ve been doing this since I was 15, and this really makes me wonder if I’ve been doing it long enough.”
Duane Sunagel, a retired supervisor with the Ohio Department of Public Safety, met Velez when they both worked at the Elyria post.
“He was a fun guy,” Sunagel said. “You could hear his laugh from wherever you were in the office. He loved to laugh.”
Sunagel also played softball with Velez on the patrol post softball team, and they would see each other at school fundraiser events.
“He was into whatever his kids were doing,” Sunagel said.
Sunagel said Velez loved his police work. In fact, Sunagel said, Velez had recently retired but continued working through the deferred retirement option plan (DROP) program.
“He loved to serve the public,” he said. “He could talk with anyone.”
Sunagel said it’s been a while since they talked.
“It’s funny, I almost called him up last week,” he said. “I didn’t. I wish I would have.”
Reporters Jodi Weinberger, Brad Dicken and Jon Wysochanski also contributed to this story.
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