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Ferndale, Macomb Township

Officers hold fundraiser for family who lost daughter

September 26, 2012

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John Cleveland, a Macomb Township resident and the father of 3-year-old Olivia Cleveland, who was killed in June during an accident with a drunken driver, hugs one of the many supporters who attended a fundraiser for the Cleveland family on Sept 20. The fundraiser, held at Rosie O’Grady’s pub in Ferndale, was held to help the family pay for mounting medical expenses from the accident.

FERNDALE — The couple dozen TV screens set above the bar at Rosie O’Grady’s Irish Pub normally are reserved for the anchors of ESPN and coverage of the various Detroit sports teams.

On Sept. 19, the screens were dedicated to a slideshow of a life cut short.

Olivia Cleveland was 3 when a drunken driver struck a van her father, John Cleveland, a Ferndale police officer, was driving at the intersection of 23 Mile and Hayes roads in Shelby Township. Olivia’s mother, Jodie, and her two siblings, Katie and Gavin, were also inside the van.

Olivia was pronounced dead at the hospital later that June day. The rest of the family survived.

Almost four months later, John’s fellow Ferndale policemen organized a fundraiser at the pub to help the family deal with mounting bills stemming from the tragic day.

Since the accident, the Macomb Township family has been living with the roller coaster of emotions that come with burying your own child, something John described as an unnatural break in the cycle.

“People don’t really plan to bury their child,” John said. “It’s not supposed to happen.”

“It’s still rough,” Jodie said, holding one of Olivia’s favorite toys. “I refer to it as having better days and bad days.”

The couple stood near the entrance of the pub wearing long-sleeve shirts with an image of Olivia printed on the front.

They shook hands and took hugs from friends, family, fellow policemen and some people they didn’t even know.

An hour into the event, Ferndale police officer Scott Blanchard — who was the event’s main organizer — said people were still bringing in stuff for the silent auction.

“We’re all family,” Blanchard said. “(The other officers) would do it for us; he’d do it for me.”

He had been planning the fundraiser since July, but wanted to wait until the family was ready for the public exposure.

Before the accident, John was known for nabbing the highest number of drunken drivers on the Ferndale Police Department last year. Mothers Against Drunk Driving nominated him for its Lifesavers Award, a recognition given to law enforcement officials who keep drunken drivers off the road.

“I know it makes a huge impact,” John said, of drinking and driving. “Every single person I’ve arrested for drunk driving saved a person’s life.”

MADD representatives, who were present at the fundraiser, said 300 people were killed in accidents involving alcohol in Michigan.

Angel Harris, a victim services specialist for MADD covering five counties in Southeast Michigan, assists families who, like the Clevelands, are suffering from an alcohol-related accident.

“Every story is different,” she said. “Every one of them is a tragedy.”

For John, the silver lining was seeing the number of people gathering in memory of his daughter.

“It feels great,” John said. “It’s heartwarming that people can come together in a tragic situation. Olivia touched so many lives. It’s wonderful to see.”

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