ELYRIA — Nine years after his death, the legacy of Elyria police Sgt. James Kerstetter lives on through the memories he left behind and daily reminders of his loss.
“It’s an everyday reminder,” Elyria Police Chief Duane Whitely said Friday, following a brief memorial service held every year on the anniversary of the 43-year-old officer’s death. “We miss him.”
Whitely said Friday that even after nine years, “it’s tough” knowing Kerstetter is gone, shot and killed in the line of duty March 15, 2010.
Family and friends and Kerstetter’s brothers and sisters in blue turned out at noon Friday for a wreath-laying ceremony and tribute to the fallen officer — mere steps off Kerstetter Way, the city street renamed in his honor.
The Elyria Police Department honor guard, wearing white gloves and black mourning bands on their badges, watched over the ceremony and placed a white wreath between a memorial stone for Officer Howard Taft — shot and killed after stopping a suspected drunken driver in 1942 — and Kerstetter’s stone.
Kerstetter was a 15-year veteran officer who was shot and killed during a disturbance call on 18th Street in Elyria. The gunman’s neighbor had reported the man exposed himself to a child, and Kerstetter took the call.
After entering the man’s house, Kerstetter exchanged gunfire with the man, but was shot multiple times and later pronounced dead at a hospital. Other officers shot and killed the gunman.
Kerstetter is survived by his wife, Tammy; daughters Misty, Shelby and Bailey; and his parents and sisters. Thousands of people turned out at his calling hours and funeral.
Known as “Jimmy” to friends, coworkers and family — he also earned the nickname “Sponge” from coworkers for soaking up extra shifts at work — Kerstetter was posthumously promoted to sergeant.
Each year after the memorial, the department hosts an in-house gathering where friends, family and colleagues “get together and we have a good time in Jimmy’s memory,” Whitely said.
A field training officer and member of the Elyria Police Department Special Response Team, Kerstetter “was in great shape,” Whitely said.
The street alongside the police station is named Kerstetter Way, and a 5K run and 1-mile fun walk held around his birthday in July draws hundreds of people who run in memory of a man fondly remembered as a fitness buff.
Kerstetter served as a corrections officer and deputy with the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office prior to joining the Elyria department in 1994. His name also appears on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Ohio Peace Officer Memorial in London, Ohio.
A lot has changed in the lives of Kerstetter’s daughters since the day they lost their father. Misty Kerstetter is now married and lives in North Carolina. She is in law school and will join the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, also known as the “JAG Corps,” the legal arm of the U.S. Air Force.
Shelby Kerstetter attended Ohio State University and is now in a pharmacy internship program. Neither of the older daughters attended Friday’s service.
The youngest, Bailey Kerstetter, attends Brookside High School. Before leaving the short service, Bailey climbed on the trunk of her father’s cruiser, which is still coded with his badge number, 177, and posed for a picture.
Stories about Kerstetter the man, the officer, the father and husband he was still are told to newcomers to the Elyria community.
All of those stories should be believed, said Kim Eichenlaub, whose husband, Matt, is a lieutenant with Elyria police and who paused after Friday’s memorial to look at Kerstetter’s memorial stone.
“It’s all true,” she said.
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