Officer honored at funeral for his dedication to the job

10-year MdTA police veteran, 29, died last week in crash on U.S. 50

July 27, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of law enforcement officers gathered in Anne Arundel County yesterday to remember Cpl. Duke G. Aaron III, the Maryland Transportation Authority police officer who was killed last week when his cruiser was struck from behind by a vehicle on U.S. 50.

Those who worked with Corporal Aaron, who patrolled the Bay Bridge, said at his funeral that they revered him for the sacrifices he regularly made in the line of duty.

"Corporal Duke Aaron did not just lay down his life last Tuesday, but he laid it down every day," said Glenn Francis, a fellow authority police officer and friend.

The 29-year-old Pasadena resident died July 20 after a pickup truck driven by a Queenstown man slammed into his patrol cruiser on the shoulder of U.S. 50 west of the bridge. He had just written a traffic citation.

The pickup truck driver, Albert Gene Antonelli, 32, of the 100 block of Greenwood Creek Road in Queen Anne's County, was driving with a suspended license and has a history of traffic and misdemeanor drug violations, court records show. The investigation of the accident is continuing, said Transportation Authority spokeswoman Catherine Leahan.

Transportation police officials posthumously promoted the 10-year veteran, named the authority's Officer of the Year for three consecutive years, to the rank of corporal.

Friends, family and police officials described Corporal Aaron yesterday as the epitome of dedication and service.

Roads around the funeral home on Mountain Road in Pasadena were shut down for hours yesterday to accommodate the procession of police vehicles and honor guards. Speeches were broadcast outside so law enforcement officers and others could hear the service.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele thanked Corporal Aaron's wife, Jennifer, on behalf of the governor and the state for her husband's sacrifice and service, noting his "unwavering commitment to serve the public."

"Today as we pay tribute to Duke, let us also pay tribute to the law enforcement [officers] who continue that work," he said. "We must always be mindful of the risks they take everyday to protect us."

"Bonds of family are no greater than bonds between police officers," added state Secretary of Transportation Robert L. Flanagan. He described Corporal Aaron as "a shining example for his fellow officers."

Corporal Aaron never sought promotions during his 10 years on the force because "he loved that bridge, and Duke knew he could do his best work on the street," said Transportation Authority Police Chief Gary McLhinney.

"I've never seen an officer so revered by his fellow officers and friends," Chief McLhinney said.

Corporal Aaron could also be a prankster. Officer Francis, who had trained with him as a cadet, recounted how his friend had surreptitiously replaced the filling of a Twinkie with hot sauce to get back at co-workers who were helping themselves to his snacks.

"Every now and then I can still remember that burning sensation," Officer Francis said.

On another occasion, Corporal Aaron stopped to write five traffic citations while the lunch he was picking up for Officer Francis grew cold. Corporal Aaron explained that he couldn't let those drivers continue on unsafely.

But Officer Francis also remembered how Corporal Aaron maintained ties with a group of fellow authority officers who worked together at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and were known as "the posse" because they looked out for one another.

"He would say, `You never know when we might need to come together,'" Officer Francis said as his voice broke.

Corporal Aaron's casket was covered with an American flag that had flown on the Bay Bridge. A fan of country singer Hank Williams Jr., Corporal Aaron was buried with one of his CDs.

"We've lost a very good person, a very good family man," said Corporal Aaron's cousin, Bruce Bagley, 52, of Arnold.

People who had never met Corporal Aaron also waited on the overcast day to pay their respects, both at the funeral home and along overpasses along the procession route.

Gayle Graft, 34, of Pasadena watched the procession with her 12-year-old son, Josh, and her daughter, Hannah, 6.

"He put his life on the line to save us," she said. "All of these officers do."

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