Westminster police chief mourned

1,000 attend funeral for Leppo, killed in Frederick road accident

August 09, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,SUN STAFF

In Westminster, Sam Rinehart Leppo was chief of police, but in his nearby hometown of Union Bridge, he was remembered yesterday as "Sam, just Sam" -- friend, neighbor and family man.

"Unless you really knew Sam, you wouldn't know he was a police chief," said Will Farver, as he stood outside the Union Bridge volunteer fire station to pay his respects to Mr. Leppo, 53, who was killed in an automobile accident Wednesday afternoon in Frederick.

Farver was one of about 1,000 people, including 400 uniformed police officers and firefighters from across the state, who gathered at the fire station and lined the streets of the tiny Carroll County town for Mr. Leppo's funeral. Services were held at the fire station because of the size of the crowd.

The Rev. Barry Taylor, pastor of Union Bridge United Methodist Church, choked back tears as he eulogized his friend, a man who followed in his grandfather's footsteps and became a police officer.

Taylor talked about Mr. Leppo as a husband and father who dearly loved his wife, Ruth, and son, Sam -- and as a community member who decorated his house elaborately every Christmas.

"Sam grew up in this town and chose to make it his home," Taylor said. "Here he was Sam, just Sam."

Mr. Leppo lived in Union Bridge all his life and was active in the rural community.

Westminster officials, including Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan and former city attorney Charles Hollman, spoke at the funeral about their police chief.

"Sam was the one who didn't like to leave things undone," Hollman said.

He described him as "honest" and "loyal," a "man of integrity."

Mr. Leppo joined the Westminster Police Department 32 years ago and was appointed chief in 1976. He was the longest-tenured police chief in active service in Maryland.

He was known as a firm and compassionate leader, committed to the safety of his officers and the citizens he served.

Mr. Leppo was off duty and driving his 1995 Mazda pickup truck in Frederick when the accident occurred Wednesday afternoon.

He was headed south on Route 194 when his truck was struck on the passenger side by a car that pulled out of Fountain Rock Road in Walkersville, state police in Frederick County said. Leppo's truck flipped over onto the driver's side and into the northbound lane, where it was struck by a sport utility vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Before Taylor finished the service's final prayer, police officers began lining up in two single-file rows outside the fire station.

A police officer from Washington, dressed in a uniform jacket and plaid kilt, played the bagpipes as Mr. Leppo's American flag-draped casket was carried out by other officers and placed in a white hearse for a procession to nearby Mountain View Cemetery on South Main Street.

Officers dressed in blue, brown and gray uniforms followed Mr. Leppo's family and the Maryland State Police color guard to the cemetery.

As the procession turned down Main Street, some residents saluted the flags while others watched quietly, tears streaming down their faces.

Two firetrucks were parked along the procession route, their ladders suspending an American flag 50 feet in the air.

At the cemetery, a heavy downpour began. Most of the people in attendance were without umbrellas, but they didn't seem to care. They wanted to pay their respects.

Pub Date: 8/09/99

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