Lower Burrell renames park for slain officer

| Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, 12:13 p.m.

Lower Burrell residents will come and go through the years, but on Saturday, the city made sure one native son will be remembered.

On a bright autumn afternoon, the K-9 Officer Derek Kotecki Memorial Park was dedicated in honor of the city police officer killed in the line of duty. Kotecki was 40 when he was shot and killed by a fugitive he was trying to apprehend on Oct. 12, 2011.

“This is a very fitting and lasting tribute to Officer Kotecki, because he cared so much about the youth of this community,” Mayor Don Kinosz said.

Kinosz made the remarks to 80 to 100 people who turned out for the dedication of what previously was known as Wolf Pack Park and the Sokol camp before the city acquired it from developer Augie Moret in 2001.

Rich Kotecki, Derek's father, and Alex Kotecki, 11, the younger of his two sons, pulled the cord to unveil a large sign done mostly in shades of blue that superimposes the park's name over a gold image of Kotecki's badge.

As the applause subsided, Rich Kotecki addressed the crowd, thanking them for turning out for the event, and city officials for honoring his only son.

Speaking to the community at large on behalf of his family, he said, “We appreciate what you have done for us in the past.”

Later, Kotecki said he was pleased and gratified by the honor accorded his son.

“It's something that is going to be here forever,” he said. “It's nothing that is going to fade away. His name will be here forever.”

Kotecki's widow, Julie, declined to comment about the dedication, but her son Alex did.

Asked what he thought of the tribute, Alex said, “It's cool. I really like the sign. He deserves it.”

Rich Kotecki, Kinosz and Councilmen David Regoli and Frank Trozzi acknowledged the contribution of Moret. He sold the 27.5-acre park to the city at the price he purchased it, $183,000, to be paid over 20 years with no interest. Rich Kotecki was a city councilman when that deal was struck and worked out the sale with Moret, enabling the property to become the city's premier park for sports, ranging from youth soccer and Little League baseball to boccie and adult softball.

“It has something for everyone,” Kotecki said.

Kinosz and Rich Kotecki said that in the spring, the park entrance will be enhanced with a more permanent memorial. Kotecki described it as a metal archway that will bear his son's name.

Among the audience were two people who could relate to the Kotecki family more than anyone, Paul and Sue Sciullo. Their son, Paul II, was one of three Pittsburgh police officers killed on April 4, 2009, when they were ambushed by a gunman in the city's Stanton Heights neighborhood.

“It was an honor for us to come,” said Paul Sciullo, who like many in the crowd wore a black T-shirt memorializing Kotecki.

His wife, who wore a black T-shirt in remembrance of her son, said, “They (Koteckis) are a wonderful family. We wouldn't have missed this for the world.”

Both thought dedicating the park to Kotecki was a great and fitting tribute to him.

“They (police) are on the front line against evil; we should honor them,” Sue Sciullo said.

Lower Burrell's current chief of police, Tim Weitzel, and its past chief, Tracy Lindo, who commanded the department when Kotecki died, were present along with a number of officers from the city and the surrounding communities.

“This means everything,” Lindo said. “He was such a great man and such a great police officer.”

Lower Burrell Sgt. Scott Miller described it as a positive action, albeit one that evokes mixed emotions. “It's difficult because you know why it's being done,” he said.

Weitzel also viewed it as a positive, connecting Kotecki's name and memory with “a place where people and their families can come and enjoy themselves.”

Noting that police everywhere deal with a lot of life's bad moments and often feel their efforts are unappreciated, he said, “After Derek was killed, a lot of the people in the community came out to support us, and it's good to see they continue to do that.”

Regoli said that after the city acquired the park, the mayor and council couldn't decide on a name for it. He said when Kotecki died, dedicating it to him seemed to be the natural and right thing to do.

“In 30 years, nobody will remember Don Kinosz or Dave Regoli,” Regoli said. “But 100 years from now, they'll be able to tell you who Derek Kotecki was, and that's the way it should be.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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