Paying tribute to fallen State Trooper Michael Stewart
Three extended families on Tuesday said farewell to Pennsylvania State Trooper Michael P. Stewart III.
Those included relatives and friends, hundreds of police officers from across the country, and people lined up from Latrobe's Holy Family Church to Unity Cemetery to pay tribute — including many who could cite connections to the Unity native who proudly served the community where he grew up.
Stewart, 26, died early Friday after his police sport-utility vehicle was involved in a wreck with a garbage truck in Ligonier Township.
On Tuesday, state police spokesman Trooper Steve Limani estimated about 1,200 officers from 20 states, including Maine, Texas and California, attended Stewart's funeral services.
"We're all state troopers, no matter what uniform we wear," said Texas State Trooper Joshua Sneed, who gave the Stewart family a flag that had flown over his state's capitol. "When one of us falls, we all fall."
Limani said the church was packed to its capacity of 1,100 with family, friends and police, while speakers carried the funeral service to overflow crowds outside.
Trooper Travis November, who suffered a hairline pelvis fracture in the crash that killed his partner attended on crutches.
The Rev. Robert Byrnes, chaplain for the state police Greensburg barracks, asked those in attendance to turn to their faith while mourning Stewart but also to remember November.
"He has a long road to recovery physically, mentally and emotionally," Byrnes said.
Stewart grew up in Unity, was assigned to the Chambersburg barracks after joining the state police in 2014 and transferred to the Patrol Unit in Troop A in Greensburg in August 2015.
Childhood friend Spencer White said he was happy when Stewart was assigned to Greensburg because it meant they could spend more time together.
It was reassuring to see the community support for Stewart and his friends and family in the past few days.
"It just says a lot about our town," White said.
People who knew Stewart or his family stood along the procession route with others just there to support a fallen officer whom everyone described as warm and kind.
Stephen Malinak of the Youngstown Volunteer Fire Department was one of many firefighters, local police and public works crews closing off side streets along the route. He said he had known Stewart since preschool. While many friends and family said Stewart wanted to be a police officer for a long time, Malinak hadn't believed it.
"He was too nice. He didn't seem like the type," he said. "I'm taking time off work to assist as a thank-you for him."
Joan Tua, 74, of Latrobe came out because she sang with Stewart's grandfather in the Greater Latrobe Community Chorus. Having been through her daughter-in-law's death in a car crash, she wanted to turn out for Stewart's family.
"We're all very supportive of each other on the Latrobe Community Chorus," she said.
Tanya Rhea, 33, of Loyalhanna sat along the procession route with her daughter, Addison Hood, 6, and niece, Savannah Cherven, 9, and a homemade sign the girls made that read: "Thank Trooper Stewart, RIP."
Rhea had known Stewart since May, when she was in a car crash he had responded to. He kept in touch with her to keep her up-to-date on the investigation, Rhea said.
"He was very sweet to me; he was very kind," Rhea said.
John Walkinshaw, among the dozens who waited for the procession at the edge of the St. Vincent College campus, said he had worked at Latrobe Steel for 21 years with Stewart's father. He described the elder Stewart as a joker and was saddened to think of what his old friend was going through.
"They were just the best family," he said.
The church bells in Latrobe rang for about 15 minutes as Stewart's casket was loaded and hundreds of police vehicles departed for the cemetery, led by dozens of police motorcycles. It took another 15 minutes for the procession to pass under extended ladder trucks from the Unity and Latrobe fire departments and go up the road to pass through the cemetery gates.
Limani issued a statement thanking the community, local emergency responders and law enforcement across the country for their support.
"The outpouring of support for the loss of Trooper Stewart was tremendous," he wrote. "The family ... would like privacy as they try to digest the tragedy that took Michael."
"This is what should be going on," said Christie Baughman, 53, of Hempfield, who said her husband had worked with Stewart's grandfather. "A lot of good-hearted Americans coming together to support one another."
Matthew Santoni and Renatta Signorini are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.