Stephen Fedus, Jr., who retired from the West Hartford Police Department in the 1940s after losing his left leg in the line of duty, was honored Wednesday with the Police Cross.
By Ronni Newton
Stephen Fedus, Jr. had embarked on what he considered his “life’s work” when his career with the West Hartford Police Department was cut short by a critical injury he received while trying to protect children from an out-of-control vehicle that was speeding by a crosswalk at an elementary school.
The incident happened on April 13, 1948. Several days after the incident Fedus, who was 27 at the time, had his left leg amputated and in May 1949 was forced to take a disability separation from the West Hartford Police Department, Chief Tracey Gove said.
On May 25, Gove, along with Assistant Chief Robert McCue and Assistant Chief Daniel Coppinger, visited the 95-year-old Fedus at his home in Southwick, MA. They presented him with the Police Cross – an honor “awarded to a sworn officer who in the intelligent performance of his/her duty is seriously injured.”
When he filled out an application to join the West Hartford Police Department in 1947, Gove said that Fedus wrote: “I want to make this my life’s work.”
“It shows his commitment to his career, which unfortunately was cut much too short,” Gove said.
The April 13, 1948 incident occurred at 3:30 p.m., at the intersection of Asylum Avenue and Steele Road where Fedus was assigned to help children crossing the street from Beach Park School (now the University of Saint Joseph School for Young Children). Fedus was standing at the northwest corner of the intersection waiting to safely escort a group of children, when a speeding vehicle approached heading westbound on Asylum Avenue.
The two men in the vehicle, 17-year-olds John Maciuszka and Richard Lacy, were AWOL from Fort Dix in New Jersey. The pair had reportedly hitchhiked from New Jersey to Hartford and had stolen a car on Tremont Street.
They were joyriding along Asylum Avenue when, according to the write-up Gove prepared for the presentation of the Police Cross, Maciuszka “attempted to pass another car on the right and in doing so struck the curb and veered back into the street. Officer Fedus, seeing this, entered the roadway to stop the car. As he did so the car began to skid and struck him broadside, breaking his left leg in several places. The car continued to skid, sheared off a mailbox and flipped over when it struck a fire hydrant. The two occupants in the car, who were uninjured, fled from the scene as Officer Fedus lay injured in the street. Residents quickly came to the aid of the fallen officer and a manhunt began for the two occupants of the car.”
After what was reportedly one of the largest manhunts the area had ever seen, the youths were captured by police a short time later in Elizabeth Park. They were sentenced to the State Reformatory according to a newspaper article from the Hartford Courant dated June 2, 1948.
Although there were many articles published about the 1948 incident which resulted in Fedus’ injury decades ago, those currently serving in the department were not aware of it and the Police Cross had never been presented to Fedus.
The West Hartford Police Department received an email from Fedus’ son Henry just last week. In the May 19 email, Henry Fedus informed the department that his father, at 95, was in failing health and said it would be nice if someone could stop by and say hello.
“My father still considers himself a police officer and it would really raise his spirits during the ending of his time here with us,” Henry Fedus wrote.
Gove, McCue, and Coppinger were happy to make the trip to Southwick, and at the same decided to present Stephen Fedus, Jr. with the Police Cross. The award had not been established back when Fedus was injured.
“The Police Cross became an award after Det. Paul Melanson [who is now chief of police in Farmington] was accidentally shot and suffered a significant injury while conducting a SWAT raid in October of 1995. The award was developed as a result of that injury to recognize members of the department that suffered a dramatic injury in the line of duty,” McCue said. “It is one of the highest awards an officer can receive. From the records we have, Officer Fedus is only the second officer to have received this award,” said McCue.
“It was uplifting to hear what an impact the job of being a police officer – even for a very brief period of time – had on Officer Fedus and his family. Although he retired in 1948, and held several other non-police jobs, including one with the State for 30 years, he still exudes tremendous pride and happiness when he talks about his time with the West Hartford Police Department,” Gove said.
When Fedus was injured in 1948, there was a remarkable outpouring of support from West Hartford Police and the community, Gove said. The department raised more than $4,000 on his behalf – a significant sum in 1948.
Also remarkable was the fact that in 1951 Fedus won WTIC radio’s letter-writing contest. Submissions were to address the topic: “The Nicest Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” McCue and Gove said that Fedus considered the love and support from the public that he received after the incident to be the best thing that had ever happened to him.
After retiring from the West Hartford Police Department Fedus married and had three children. Tragically, his wife passed away in 1970, leaving him to raise three children, ages 12, 11, and 5.
“They have all gone on to become doctors. He raised all three by himself and they are all very successful,” said McCue.
Fedus told the West Hartford Police chiefs that along with having been a police officer, that he was most proud of raising his children.
Henry Fedus, in his email, said he was very proud of his father.
The write-up that accompanied the Police Cross states: “Officer Stephen Fedus’ career was cut tragically short, however, his sacrifice and bravery will remain as an example to the men and woman of this department for all time. The West Hartford Police Department is proud to present Officer Stephen Fedus with the West Hartford Police Department Police Cross for his sacrifice.”
“Personally, for me, the visit served as a reminder that we are all connected to the officers of the past and what a wonderful tradition of policing we have here in West Hartford,” said Gove.
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