Published November 28, 2012
Project Blue Light pays tribute to fallen officers
By Andy Kozlowski firstname.lastname@example.org
HAZEL PARK — Placing a blue light in the front window of your home sends a message to police officers on patrol that you care about their safety. It also tells the families of fallen officers that their sacrifice was not in vain.
Such is the meaning behind Project Blue Light, a non-religious event that will be attended by law enforcement officers and honor guards from all over the state, along with their family and friends. The public is encouraged to attend. A roll call of fallen officers will be read — both those who died this year and in years past. A bagpipe band will pay respects, and attendees will place flowers on the wreath for their loved ones in law enforcement.
The keynote speaker is Sgt. Randy Diegel from the Eastpointe Police Department, who nearly lost his life while making a traffic stop last year. He had pulled over one driver when another driver, under the influence of alcohol, struck his vehicle, pushing it into him and leaving him in critical condition.
He’s an example of the perils policemen face every day. Donna Wudyka, the woman who brought Project Blue Light to Metro Detroit, knows how dangerous things can be. She served for 10 years with the Detroit Police Department and decided to retire the badge and blue uniform when her partner was killed right before her eyes.
It was January 1996, and she was a backup unit on a traffic stop involving a stolen car. As she and other officers approached the vehicle and ordered the driver out, the suspect stopped and fired one shot over his shoulder. The suspect was quickly shot dead himself, but his one shot struck Wudyka’s partner, officer Patrick Prohm, in the head.
“I was in shock,” Wudyka said. “I looked at my partner, and I said, ‘I’m done — I’m done with this job.’ The fun stopped. It took a year for the retirement to go through, but that was my last day at work.”
Looking back, she said some good came out of it, since she became involved with MICOPS — the Michigan branch of Concerns of Police Survivors, which helps families of survivors. Wudyka also started Living Legends, which supports officers and their immediate families during times of crisis, financial or otherwise.
Her involvement with these causes led her to bring Project Blue Light to the Detroit area in 2004. The choice of St. Justin for the venue was in part because Pastor Bob Williams is the chaplain for the local police departments, and in part because Hazel Park was where officer Jessica Nagle-Wilson served before she was killed by a man wielding a shotgun in July 2002.
She had visited the man’s home in the 900 block of East Jarvis to tell him to keep his dog on a leash. The man, Hans Georg Hofe, reacted with lethal violence and is now serving a life sentence on a first-degree murder conviction.
It all goes to show how random and senseless the risk of violence can be in a police officer’s world. It’s a reality that has claimed the lives of several more officers this year, either in Michigan or with ties to the state. They are as follows:
• Police Officer Patrick O’Rourke, West Bloomfield Police Department, died at age 39 on Sept. 9. He was shot and killed while entering a house in response to a domestic dispute and reports of shots fired. He had served with his department for 12 years and is survived by his wife, four children, his parents and three brothers.
• Correctional Officer Clarence Tariq Hammond III, Michigan Department of Corrections, died at age 33 on Jan. 14 during a botched robbery attempt, as he returned to his apartment in Madison Heights. He had served with the MDOC for six years, assigned to the Macomb Correctional Facility, and is survived by two sons.
• Police Officer Celena Hollis, Denver Police Department, died at age 32 on June 24 when she was shot and killed trying to break up a fight at a jazz festival in Denver’s City Park. She had served with the department for seven years; she previously served with the Detroit Police Department for four years. She is survived by her daughter.
Debbie Swofford, state president of the Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary, said Project Blue Light helps bring some closure to the survivors.
“The last thing you ever want to do is forget,” Swofford said. “You want to keep it going, and you want people to remember their sacrifice, and you want families to know that the support is still there.”
The Project Blue Light ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5 at St. Justin Church, 1600 E. Evelyn. All are invited to come show their support.