Kenneth Velez was one of the youngest in the Ohio Highway Patrol’s 118th Academy Class when he graduated and became a trooper after taking an oath to serve and protect. On Thursday, he was laid to rest after nearly 30 years on the force during a service at Lorain County Community College that drew more than 500 officers from around the country for his funeral.
An American flag served as the backdrop in the college’s Ewing Center where mourners gathered to say goodbye to the father, son, trooper and an avid sports fan who was known for having an infectious personality and would take time to chat with everyone he met.
Velez, 48, was struck and killed by a car on Interstate 90 in Cleveland on Sept. 15 during a traffic stop. Joshua Gaspar, 37, of Columbia Station, has been charged with aggravated vehicular homicide. Court records indicate Gaspar may have been under the influence of drugs at the time of the crash, which troopers said happened when Gaspar swerved to avoid another vehicle and struck Velez, who was standing inside the berm.
“He was suddenly and violently taken from us in the line of duty,” said the Rev. William Thaden, pastor at Sacred Heart Chapel.
Rey Torres Jr., Velez’s cousin, said being a trooper was Velez’s life dedication.
Early on in his career, Torres said Velez saw another trooper get sideswiped while out on the job and Velez also was injured as a result, forcing him to take time off duty.
“Kenny could have quit (and said) ‘Oh, that’s it for me. That was too close.’ But Kenny was dedicated. He was devoted to what he did and when he got back he got in there,” Torres said. “I hate to be up here looking down on him, but I’ll tell you what, that man went down as a hero because he lived as a hero.
“Kenny you are a hero yesterday, today and forever.”
Velez’s children — Devin, Christian and Andria — thanked the community for the support they’ve received in the wake of his death.
“We’re extremely proud of our father,” said Devin Velez. “He was part of an amazing brotherhood and devoted his whole life to protecting people and protecting us. My father showed us more love in one lifetime than most people get from a father. We still feel the love.”
Sharing memories and stories of Velez will help keep his spirit alive, said Col. Paul Pride, superintendent of the Ohio Highway Patrol,
In 1988, Velez was hired as a cadet dispatcher with the patrol and assigned to the Elyria post. In 1989, he graduated from the academy and joined the patrol as part of “the lean and mean, the 118,” Pride said. He started as a trooper in Canfield but was transferred to the Elyria post in 1992 where he worked until 2008 when he went to District 3 Commercial Enforcement out of Medina. In 2016, he took his last assignment at Cleveland Metro Post 18.
“Words fall short of expressing the sorrow we feel,” said Pride, who was in the academy with Velez. “The hearts of the entire law enforcement of this country and Canada are with you.”
Over the years, Velez earned numerous commendations for safe driving and physical fitness.
“I could continue to talk about things like honor integrity, commitment, service, sacrifice, strength, courage, character, discipline, and the list goes on,” Pride said. “But I don’t need to convince you, his family and friends, that Kenny demonstrated all those qualities. You already know these things.”
Instead, Pride shared one of his favorite memories of Velez. Pride said Velez was always nervous that he was about to be fired while in the academy, but during boxing week, a new side of Velez appeared.
“They called my name and called Kenny’s name, and we went out on the mat. I remember hearing the bell ring, and then I remember hearing a bunch of bells’ rings,” Pride said, laughing. “Kenny told the story just a little bit different that I would tell it obviously. … Kenny said he was the only guy that busted the colonel in the head and got away with it. Well, my nose actually leans a little bit off to the right … and I attribute that to Kenny ‘Buzzsaw’ Velez.”
Red and white flowers flanked the flag-draped casket that made a six-mile trip down North Ridge Road to Calvary Cemetery followed by miles of police cars flashing their blue lights in honor of Velez. The procession stretched from the cemetery to LCCC — the final cars were still pulling out of the college when the lead cars arrived at the cemetery.
“None of us in this room that have the uniform could do this life’s work without the love and support of our families,” Pride said. “With that love and support, what we can do is limitless. Thank you for your love and support of Kenny as he supported the Highway Patrol.”
The Rev. Richard Ellsworth, chaplain for the patrol, told the crowd to turn their faith to God when they have questions over what happened the day Velez died. Though scripture can offer comfort, Ellsworth said, it’s faith that will heal.
“(Scripture) doesn’t bring an answer to why, when Trooper Velez was on duty responding to his calling to make Ohio a safer place in which to live, why the tragedy had to occur,” Ellsworth said.
God gave people freedom of choice, he said, but God also called on some to become “ministers of justice.”
“Ken responded to that calling. He was putting service above self every day,” Ellsworth said, “Service above self, even at the cost of one’s own life.”
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