Lower Burrell officer knew he was headed to dangerous situation
Lower Burrell Patrolman Derek Kotecki knew he was riding into danger when he and fellow officers were told by radio dispatchers that a man wanted for attempted homicide would be at the Dairy Queen.
Kotecki, a family man and 18-year veteran of the force, responded to the call shortly after 7 p.m. Wednesday with his K-9 partner, Odin, knowing that the fugitive, Charlie Post, had warned officers to stay away because he had a gun and was ready to use it.
Witnesses said Post, who held a pistol, was in the rear of a white Jeep parked in the middle of the parking lot along Greensburg Road and shot and killed the officer as he and Odin got out of the police car.
Post, 33, tried to flee but was shot and killed during a confrontation with other officers minutes later. Authorities have not said if Post died by his own hand or as a result of shots fired by officers.
Kotecki, 40, was remembered Thursday as an active member of St. Margaret Mary Roman Catholic Church who loved his wife, his two sons and life.
"He was hard-working and compassionate with a great sense of humor," said Allegheny Township District Judge Cheryl Peck Yakopec, who lives in Lower Burrell and attends St. Margaret Mary.
She said Kotecki's competence, professionalism and personality are what people look for in a good police officer.
The Rev. James Gaston said Kotecki grew up in the parish and regularly attended Mass -- sometimes in uniform.
"I saw him on a regular basis worshipping. He was very much connected to a regular worship at St. Margaret Mary's Church, which was really wonderful," Gaston said. "You knew it was important to him."
Kotecki and Post were athletes at Burrell High School a decade apart, and their parents worshipped at St. Margaret Mary, but their lives could not have been more different.
Kotecki played Little League baseball and on the Burrell High School basketball team. He patrolled the boardwalk in Ocean City, Md., as a part-time officer before joining the Lower Burrell police force in October 1993 at 22.
"He was the kind of guy who was true to himself and others. You always knew where you stood with him. He was always truthful, he had character and a sense of humor. He was a highly moral and professional person. The kind you would always trust," said Typton Swigart, owner of Southpointe Chiropractic, who met Kotecki when both were 12.
Kotecki was involved with some of the first Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) programs in Burrell School District and pushed for a K-9 officer in the police department.
Yakopec said she sometimes winced when she was scheduled to speak in schools after Kotecki's popular anti-drug classes. "I hated to follow him. He has his dog and that was it for the kids," she said. "He will be sorely missed."
Few who knew Post would speak publicly about him.
In high school he played soccer and was the football team's kicker, but then his life seemed to go downhill.
Post was charged for a variety of crimes over the years, mostly for minor offenses such as traffic violations, disorderly conduct, harassment and possession of drug paraphernalia. But there were some more serious charges such as aggravated assault, simple assault and drunken driving.
Kotecki had arrested Post on at least one of those occasions.
Post had been the subject of a manhunt since Oct. 2 when he fired gunshots at his boss, a contractor, outside of the Clarion Hotel in New Kensington. No one was injured.
A Lower Burrell detective called Post's cell phone and asked him to surrender peacefully. What he got instead were threats.
Kotecki and fellow officers went to the Dairy Queen on a tip that Post would arrive there inside a white Jeep.
"They expected him to arrive there in the white Jeep. They didn't know where he was in the Jeep," Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said.
Peck and Lower Burrell police Chief Tracy Lindo said that Post shot Kotecki and ran from the Jeep but couldn't scale a fence at the rear of the Dairy Queen property.
Post turned around and made it about 12 feet before he was confronted by at least five officers, some of whom were trying to help Kotecki.
At least two officers, guns drawn, ordered Post to drop his weapon.
Peck and Lindo said one or more officers fired several shots at Post. They also said Post shot himself at least once.
"We don't know yet if he died from an officer's bullet or the one he fired," Peck said.
One officer who fired at Post, New Kensington police Sgt. John Olearchick, was placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure after an officer-involved shooting, New Kensington police Chief Ron Zellers said.
Odin was not injured and is being cared for in Beaver County by Marion police Chief Rudolph Harkins.
Peck said more details will be made public after autopsy reports are completed on Kotecki and Post and police witnesses are interviewed.
"We felt it was in the best interests of everybody to let the officers decompress (before conducting extensive interviews)," Peck said.
Gov. Tom Corbett ordered that all flags at the Capitol and at state buildings in Westmoreland County will fly at half-staff until after Kotecki's funeral on Monday.Additional Information:
Visitation for Patrolman Derek Kotecki will be from 2 to 4 and 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 4 and 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Rusiewicz of Lower Burrell Funeral Home, 3124 Leechburg Road.
A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Monday in Mount St. Peter Roman Catholic Church, New Kensington. Burial with police honors will follow in Greenwood Memorial Park, Lower Burrell.
The Fraternal Order of Police will conduct memorial services at 7 p.m. Sunday in the funeral home.Additional Information:
Fund for family
A fund has been set up for the family of Patrolman Derek Kotecki at:
4251 Old William Penn Highway
Murrysville, PA 15668
Make checks payable to: Derek Kotecki Memorial Fund