A sea of blue lined Church Street in Ronkonkoma Monday as Nassau County Highway patrolman Joseph P. Olivieri was laid to rest.
The 13-year veteran became the third Nassau Police officer killed in the line of duty since February 2011 when he was struck and killed responding to a chain-reaction crash on the Long Island Expressway in North Hills early Thursday.
Olivieri, 43, of Ronkonkoma, was eulogized at St. Joseph Church. The hearse carrying his casket made the slow crawl past several thousand uniformed officers from more than 100 police agencies in the tri-state area.
“A lot of people forget when you are sleeping in your bed at night, Joe is out there – and a lot of other police officers are out there – making sure you’re safe,” Nassau PBA President James Carver said. “That’s what he was doing that night. He was out on the LIE at 4:45 in the morning answering the call of an auto accident with possibly somebody injured. He gave himself up to make sure everyone else was fine.”
A highway patrol car bearing Olivieri’s name pulled up at the front steps of the church. Both Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone somberly stood by as the police motorcade roared past, followed on foot by flag bearers and the Nassau Police pipe drum band.
The marquee in front of the church read: “The son of man came to serve not be served.” Fellow officers described Olivieri as just that: A man dedicated to service.
“Joe loved being a cop,” said an emotional Robert Delsignore, a 20-year member of the Highway Patrol. “He especially loved being a highway cop. And he was all business. From the moment he got to work to the minute he was relived he was out there running around. If he was not the first car at the scene of an incident, he was the second.”
Olivieri becomes the third cadet from the December 1998 Nassau Police Academy class to die in the line of duty, joining Michael J. Califano, also killed during a traffic stop on the LIE, and Geoffrey J. Breitkopf, who was felled by friendly fire. All three have died within the last 20 months, the first deaths in the line of duty suffered by the Nassau Police Department since 1993. Nassau Police Chief of Department Steven Skrynecki told reporters: “It’s all too frequent we’re that gathering under circumstances like this and it clearly underscores the fact that police work is a dangerous profession.”
Olivieri is survived by his two children, Amanda, 21, and Daniel, 18, as well as his wife, Mary-Ann, father, Joseph Sr., and two brothers, Paul and Michael. He was interred at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Coram.
And while the family’s loss will be deep, the sorrow registered on the faces of fellow officers was unmistakable.
“We can all put ourselves in the situation that Joe was in that night,” Carver said “That could have been us, if not for different circumstances.”