Howard police Sgt. Lawrence Freer dies Popular veteran known for his humor, dedication

March 03, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Howard County police Sgt. Lawrence Freer, a 21-year veteran who used humor to get suspects to confess and to bridge the divide between officers and juveniles, died Sunday of a heart attack. The North Laurel resident was 47.

Freer also was head coach of the Bowie State University baseball team, whose season-opening game at home tomorrow against Shenandoah University of Winchester, Va. has been postponed indefinitely.

"We are all stunned and shocked to learn of his death," said BSU Athletic Director Larry Wilson. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and he will be dearly missed."

Yesterday, friends and family remembered a man dedicated to police work, who fulfilled his dreams of wearing a uniform and helping others. They also recalled a "jokester" who could make anyone laugh -- from the police chief to a hardened criminal.

"He would break down the barriers and gaps with his humor," said Patrol Officer 1st class David Etheridge, who joined the department four years before Freer. "He'd be able to get the bad guy to confess to what he did. He could get him laughing with him."

Sgt. Frank Smith said Freer always made his days easier with his wit and jokes.

"I worked three days out of four with him," said Smith, a close friend and 22-year veteran. "If I didn't work the first day with him, I honestly looked forward to the other three, because he helped make them fun."

As supervisor of the department's Street Drug Unit for the last year and a half, Freer's community-based approach and hard work helped boost arrests significantly, said Lt. Tim Branning, his supervisor.

While friends said Freer had to fight his way to that position because many thought he wasn't serious enough, the sergeant developed programs to tackle drug problems in Long Reach, North Laurel and other areas, Branning said.

"Howard County is losing an experienced police officer who cared about the community he policed," Branning said. "I could pour the work on him, but he never complained."

Freer also played a major role in quelling anger at Oakland Mills High School after a student was found hanged in 1990. Many in the community blamed police officers for the death, and Freer, who worked in the youth section at the time, was quickly dispatched to the school.

"He had an amazing rapport with children, better than anyone here," said Sgt. Morris Carroll, spokesman for the department. "He went to Oakland Mills and really made things better for us."

Freer also spent eight years on the K-9 unit.

Carroll recalled a night several years ago when Freer rescued a "mangy mutt" and drove the stray around all night.

Near the end of the shift, Carroll and Freer responded to a burglary call and Freer unleashed the dog, which eventually tracked down the prowler.

"Maybe the dog was repaying him for keeping him warm all night," Carroll said.

Born and raised in New York City, Freer graduated from St. Agnes High School in Manhattan in 1968 and served in the Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington from 1969 to 1971. He returned to New York and married Patricia Tomao a year later.

Freer joined the Howard County Police Department as a patrol officer in 1977 after spending two years in the U.S. Secret Service in Beltsville.

He attended night classes and earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Maryland in 1986.

While friends said that Freer enjoyed police work, his true passion was baseball, as a coach at Bowie State and as a Yankees fan.

Freer guided Bowie State's Bulldogs to their second consecutive Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association title last year. Under his leadership, the Bulldogs posted their best record in 14 years, ending the season with a 26-14 record. He was named CIAA Baseball Coach of the Year.

Before joining Bowie State, Freer spent two years as an assistant coach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and was head baseball coach at St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland from 1991-94. In 1992, he guided the Seahawks to a 19-11 record, their best in the school's history.

Freer is survived by his wife, Patricia; a son, Michael; a daughter, Megan; and a brother, Joseph, of New York.

A viewing will be held tomorrowat Witzke Funeral Home in Columbia, and services will be held Thursday at St. Mary's of the Mills Catholic Church in Laurel.

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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