Thursday, November 23, 2017 Elyria 38°
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Officers from near and far pay respects

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ELYRIA - Some were fresh off overnight shifts and others traveled thousands of miles, but every police officer who attended the funeral of fallen Elyria police Officer James Kerstetter on Saturday came with a common purpose - to honor one of their own.

"It's a brotherhood," said Toronto police Constable Kristal Lynch, a member of the Toronto Police Chief's Ceremonial Unit, which made the drive from Canada for the services. "When you put on this uniform, it doesn't matter what the patch on your arm is."

After the officers filed into the funeral, hundreds of police cars - 383 cars and 52 police motorcycles were on hand, according to an official count - were parked outside, waiting to escort Kerstetter on one final ride past the Elyria Police Station. During the service, only one vehicle still had its light bar rotating - the truck used by the Elyria Police Department's Special Response Team, which Kerstetter was a member of.

Capt. Tim Roddy of the Struthers Police Department outside of Youngstown, said he and Patrolman Bob Smith worked the overnight shift, changed into their dress uniforms and headed to Elyria in a cruiser to pay their respects.

"We try to celebrate the profession," Roddy said. "At any one point, it could be me."

Lorain County sheriff's Sgt. Randy Koubeck, who helped coordinate the funeral service at Lorain County Community College, said the sheer number of police officers who made the trip impressed him.

"It's a very nice presence of officers, and it shows support of the Elyria officers," Koubeck said.

Avon Lake police Lt. Duane Streator, who oversaw the logistics of the funeral with sheriff's Capt. Jim Drozdowski, said Kerstetter would have been there to show support if it were another officer who was killed in the line of duty.

"I know Jim so well, and if the roles had been reversed, he would have been standing up tall doing what we needed," Streator said.

Other officers who knew, liked and respected Kerstetter also showed up to pay their respects.

"He was outstanding. He would give the shirt off his back for you," said Federal Reserve Bank police Officer Troy Duesler, who said Kerstetter helped train him. "He was just an excellent guy."

Lorain police Officer Bill Lachner said that when Kerstetter was killed, he was dealing with the type of neighborhood disturbance call that officers handle every day. The man accused of killing Kerstetter, Ronald Palmer, was shot and killed by two other Elyria officers.

"Anytime anybody dies, it's a tragedy, but this hits close to home, being a brother police officer from the same county," Lachner said.

Many of the officers who came said they felt the need to make the trip, even if it took them far from home. Police came from as far as Florida and Arizona, and some had also attended the funeral earlier this week of Cleveland Heights police Officer Thomas Patton II, who died March 13 while chasing a suspect.

Chicago police Officer Bryant Garcia never met Kerstetter but came to the funeral to show solidarity with Elyria's officers. It's something he and other members of the Chicago police try to do as often as they can.

"Since we're a bigger department, it's good to show support to as many cities as we can," he said.

That desire to show support is what drew Cleveland police Sgt. Randy Daley to the Pipes and Drums of the Cleveland Police, which provided the music outside the funeral.

"This embodies all the things that are important to policemen: the camaraderie, the brotherhood, the friendship and the realization that this can happen to any one of us," he said.

Police officers weren't the only ones paying their respects. Firefighters also were on hand, including members of the Axemen, a motorcycle club composed of current and former firefighters. Even if police and firefighters have different roles, they feel a kinship with each other, said Lorain firefighter Bob Haas. Whenever a member of the safety forces falls, the community closes ranks, said retired Lakewood firefighter Bruce Jones.

"We may have our personal differences, but when it comes down to it, we're all brothers," Jones said.

Drozdowski said the turnout for Kerstetter was amazing to see. Even those police officers who couldn't attend because they were patrolling Elyria's streets to allow Elyria's officers to attend the funeral demonstrated the bond of police work, he said.

"It's just phenomenal," Drozdowski said. "Words just don't describe what's going on here today."

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.



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