Sgt. Roger Petrone, an 18-year veteran of the Greenwich Police Department, passed away at his Stamford home Feb. 20, following a seven-year battle with Lou Gehrig's Disease. He was 44.
Sgt. Petrone was a popular member of the department, who was physically active and a member of the department's SWAT and Scuba teams, until the disease that kills the motor neurons in the brain and spine, robbed him of his ability to work. The highly-decorated sergeant retired in 2012 when he was no longer able to work, according to Chief James Heavey.
"Roger made such a lasting impression on the department. After he retired in 2012, he continued in a leadership role making people aware of ALS," Heavey said. In recognition of those efforts, in October 2013, Sgt. Petrone received the ALS Foundation's Steven Milne Spirit Award, according to Heavey. "He is definitely going to be missed. He was always a gentleman. It is such a sad, sad circumstnce, our hearts go out to his family."
Heavey said Sgt. Petrone's interest in public service was evidenced by his work as a dispatcher with the Stamford Police Department, with Stamford EMS and as a volunteer with the Turn of River Fire Department. He was hired by the Greenwich Police Department in 1994 and was promoted to sergeant in 2003.
"He saved a life with CPR. He received commendations from the FBI and the DEA a couple times. He received a commendation at the Connecticut SWAT Challenge in 2005," Heavey said.
In 2002, Sgt. Petrone was a member of the Marine Division unit that responded when one of the town-owned ferries with 150 senior citizens aboard ran aground off Greenwich. "He helped recover $2 million in jewelry and arrested a bank robber. He has many commendations and letters in his file," Heavey said.
Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei, said, "I am saddened by the passing of Sgt. Petrone. He was a courageous man who gave his all to the service of others. Roger was beloved by all and our community's sympathy goes to his family."
Tesei, who was notified of Sgt. Petrone's passing Thursday afternoon, added, "I am particularly sad for his dear daughter Sydney."
Sgt. Petrone was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease, or ALS, seven years ago. In a 2011 letter to supporters, he detailed the arduous medical tests and frustration in a lack of a diagnosis of the cause his symptoms until he consulted a specialist in New York.
The sergeant's popularity inspired several of his colleagues to participate in the annual ALS Foundation bike ride benefit from Boston to Greenwich. Team Greenwich Police was organized by his close friend Lt. Rick Cochran.
In a 2012 interview with Greenwich Patch, Cochran said, "We want to bring awareness to this dreadful, fatal disease." Cochran added, "It's extremely difficult to see (Roger) deteriorate. He's a great guy who everyone in the department emulates. He flew his plane to Maine every weekend, rode his Harley to work."
He added, "We're paying tribute to someone who served 18 years in the Greenwich Police Department. It's a very demanding ride ... You suffer as a rider but it's nothing to what they suffer everyday with ALS," Cochran said.
Over the years, teams of colleagues and friends, and the Covenant of Care worked to retro-fit Sgt. Petrone's home so it was wheelchair accessible. "He was determined to remain as independent as he could," Heavey said.
As his condition deteriorated, Sgt. Petrone continued his efforts to increase public awareness of the disease that robbed him of his ability to speak.
"His spirit was to be a positive guy no matter how bad the disease was attacking his body," Heavey recalled. "He was very inspirational. He attended the fund-raiser (last year) at Vineyard Vines. He continued to communicate, even though he lost the ability to speak, with a computer.
Sgt. Petrone's daughter Sydney also honored her father's spirit to increase awareness about ALS and the need to raise money for research for a cure with several benefit bake sales. With her friends and her mother Denise, the middle school student organized the sales in conjunction with ALS Foundation events.Funeral arrangements, which are being handled by Fred D. Knapp & Son in Greenwich, are pending, Heavey said.