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Four North Huntingdon officers, K-9 to help carry torch for Special Olympics

| Wednesday, May 30, 2012, 2:07 p.m.

Four North Huntingdon police officers and one of the department's police dogs plan to carry the torch for the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania on June 3.

The officers - Sgt. Kari Bauer and officers Nick Dreistadt, Carl Steinkopf and Mark Hamilton, and Bauer's dog, Vegas - plan to run about three miles with the torch along Route 22 in Delmont as part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

The entire Law Enforcement Torch Run takes three days and features officers from 40 police departments running about 140 miles along Route 22, from Heinz Field in Pittsburgh to Beaver Stadium in State College, Dreistadt said.

Although it's the first year North Huntingdon officers plan to run with the Special Olympics' torch, the Law Enforcement Torch Run began in 1981 as an effort to raise funds and awareness for the event.

According to the Special Olympics' website, the law enforcement portion of the torch run began in Wichita, Kan. After three years, the event became an international event when its creator, Wichita police Chief Richard LaMunyon, presented the project to the International Association of Police.

In April, several members of the township's police department ran in the Trooper Kenton Iwaniec Memorial Race at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. It inspired them to take on more community-based, charitable events, Bauer said.

"It goes hand in hand with what we do in community-based police work," she said. "We want to be out there so people know they don't have to look upon us as bad guys."

Dreistadt said several members of the department began fundraising for the Special Olympics in December during the annual Polar Plunge. It featured several officers from the department diving into the Allegheny River, near Heinz Field.

One member of the North Huntingdon police team makes it different than all the rest, Bauer said.

"We're the only team that's going to be running with one of our dogs," Bauer said. "He's the only dog in the entire run."

The money raised by the department comes back to the Special Olympics in southwestern Pennsylvania to help offset costs to the athletes and their families, Dreistadt said.

"We'd like to see this be at no cost to the participants or their families for them to go compete, which is why fundraising is so big," he said.

"We enjoy being part of things like this, and as long as the department permits us to be involved, we'll continue to do it."

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