Rookie police officer from Leet dies of pulmonary embolism

Bobby Cherry
| Friday, June 28, 2013, 6:48 p.m.

Zachary John O'Neill had been a police officer for four months, but his work ethic proved to be far greater than most rookies.

A part-time officer in Leetsdale and Leet Township, O'Neill would have turned 21 on July 4. He died June 23 after suffering a pulmonary embolism, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office.

“He was beyond his time,” Leetsdale police Chief James Santucci said. “He was an adult in so many ways, but in age, still 20.

“It was almost like I had a veteran cop with him around.”

Santucci said he watched O'Neill grow up from his days as a member of the Quaker Valley High School football team.

O'Neill, of Leet, worked as a summer camp counselor at Henle Park for the borough recreation department's youth programming.

He also spent time as a Leetsdale road crew worker.

“He knows the streets and 90 percent of the people here,” Santucci said of Mr. O'Neill.

A 2010 Quaker Valley graduate, O'Neill first attended Robert Morris University in Moon Township before entering the police academy, Santucci said. He was hired as a part-time officer for Leet and Leetsdale after graduation.

Gianni Floro, a Quaker Valley School Board member, knew O'Neill and said he was “deeply saddened” by his death.

“He was wonderful to watch on the football field, and I would often seem him running around the neighborhood as he trained for the seasons,” Floro said. “You get to watch and see how these kids come up, and Zach followed closely in his brother's footsteps — from the field to the classroom. Sometimes younger siblings amplify the success of their siblings, and that was the case in Zach's case.”

O'Neill had just completed a shift in Leet and woke up on the next Sunday morning in pain, Santucci said. He was taken to a local hospital, where he died.

Leetsdale police officers will honor O'Neill during the Fourth of July parade through the borough with a memorial sticker, Santucci said.

O'Neill was the son of Daniel P. and Sue Grace Ervin O'Neill; grandson of the late John J. Sr. and Mildred Kerr O'Neill and Russell and Ruth Ervin; and brother of Nicholas Russell O'Neill.

Memorial contributions are being accepted in Mr. O'Neill's name to the Western Pennsylvania Police Benevolent Foundation at

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408or

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