Trooper killed in Ligonier Township crash remembered; funeral procession set for Tuesday
Mourners waited in a winding line for more than an hour Monday evening at the John J. Lopatich Funeral Home in Latrobe to pay their respects to the late Pennsylvania State Trooper Michael P. Stewart III.
Many of them were police officers themselves, having traveled from all over the country to say goodbye to one of their own.
"When a trooper passes, we make an effort to get out there," said Indiana State Trooper Kenny Lee. Lee came to the funeral home as part of a contingent that also included troopers from Delaware and Michigan. "It's always a tragedy. It's a hard pill to swallow, but we all know it's a possibility," he said.
Stewart, 26, of Unity, died last week after getting into a wreck while on patrol in Ligonier Township.
Jack Kearney, the Steelers longtime head of security, on Monday remembered Stewart as a teen who wanted to do it all at the team's annual training camp at St. Vincent College.
"He wanted to be involved from the very beginning," Kearney. "He wanted to be driving the golf carts at training camp, he wanted to be Ben Roethlisberger's bodyguard. He was just mature beyond his age, I would say. He was a very hard worker, a great friend."
Visitation hours at the funeral home were held from 2 to 8 p.m. Monday, with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 62 holding a memorial service there at 7 p.m.
A funeral Mass will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Holy Family Church in Latrobe.
Kearney said Stewart worked at the Steelers training camp on the Unity campus from age 14 to 23.
"He just touched everyone's lives. He wasn't pretentious, there was no airs of him. He was just a good-hearted person. He wanted to be not just a police officer, he wanted to be a Pennsylvania state trooper. ... He wanted to be one because he wanted to help people," Kearney said. "I've never had anyone say a bad word about him. He's just one of those people that goes through life that everyone liked and loved. No one was jealous of him, he was a good-looking kid, had a lot of friends, and always did the right thing."
Stewart died early Friday when his state police SUV collided with a garbage truck about 2:20 a.m. on Route 711 in Ligonier Township. Another trooper in the SUV was injured, but the truck driver was unhurt. The investigation is ongoing.
Tuesday's funeral procession route will make a left onto Chestnut Street from Holy Family Church. From there, the procession will travel onto Jefferson Street, then Irving Avenue, Ligonier Street, Route 982 southbound and onto Route 30 westbound.
It is unknown how many police departments will take part in the procession, but Pennsylvania Trooper Stephen Limani said he is expecting 50 or more.
Limani said officers and community members alike have turned out in droves to honor Stewart.
"Last night (the line) was down the block and up the street," he said Monday.
He remembered Stewart as a man with a personality to match his large stature.
"He was a teddy bear. As big as he was, his heart was just as big or bigger," he said.
The procession will make a right onto St. Vincent Drive and then Monastery Drive and into Unity Cemetery, where a private burial service will be held.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Troopers Helping Troopers Foundation at 3625 Vartan Way, Harrisburg, PA 17110.
Correction: July 18, 2017
This story was modified to correct the name of the deceased state trooper.