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WINDSOR LOCKS - An off-duty police officer died early Saturday morning when his car hit a utility pole on Route 75, state police said.
Kenneth Kersias, 55, of Halladay Avenue in Suffield, was traveling north on Route 75 around 2:30 a.m. when he lost control of his 2008 Ford Mustang and hit the pole, state police said. He was extricated from the car by local firefighters and airlifted to Hartford Hospital, where he died, police said.
There was no one else in the car.
Windsor Locks police Capt. Chester DeGray said Kersias was a 34-year member of the department.
"He was a very good officer, It's a tragic loss for the department," DeGray said Saturday afternoon.
HARTFORD COURANT
 

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WINDSOR LOCKS — The handwritten note from 8-year-old Nate seems to sum up many townspeople’s sentiments for Officer Kenneth A. Kersias, the longest-serving member of the town’s police force — 34 years — who died in a weekend car crash while off duty.

The note, pinned to what was left of the utility pole on Route 75 that split in half in the one-car crash, reads, “Dear Uncle Kenny, I’ll miss you. You’re the best and I love you. Your buddy, Love, Nate.”

Nate is the nephew of Jennifer Dunlap-Jones of Windsor Locks, Kersias’ former girlfriend. She said her nephew always affectionately considered Kersias like an uncle.

“He was just a wonderful man,” she said Sunday afternoon. “I’m still in shock.

Dunlap-Jones showed up at the crash site to leave white roses and purple flowers, saying purple was Kersias’ favorite color. She leaned the bouquet against the new pole erected by utility workers next to the sheared off pole following the crash.

The crash site, directly in front of the Friendly’s restaurant along Route 75, quickly became a memorial to Kersias in the aftermath of his death early Saturday. It’s a place where those who knew him — along with those who didn’t but heard news reports about the crash — came over the weekend to place bouquets of flowers, rosaries, notes, and to pay their respects.

On Sunday afternoon, a young man placed a red rose on the new utility pole, then shook his head as he returned silently to his car. A woman accompanied by children showed up to place a large pumpkin by the same pole. Drawn on the pumpkin was a sad face with tears streaming out of its eyes. Written on it were the words, “We’ll miss you.”

According to state police, the accident occurred around 2:37 a.m. Saturday as Kersias, 55, was driving north on Route 75, also known as Ella Grasso Turnpike.

He had just left the Skyline Restaurant on Route 75, less than a tenth of a mile from the crash scene. The Skyline was a favorite hangout of his, and he’d gone there to watch the Red Sox game, Dunlap-Jones said.

As Kersias approached a slight left-hand curve in the roadway, he drove to the right and lost control of his car, a new green Ford Mustang he had recently bought.

The car careened onto the grassy shoulder of the roadway near Friendly’s, then rotated slightly counterclockwise until it rolled onto the passenger side, striking the utility pole in the area of the driver’s door, state police said.

Kersias, who was alone in the car, was not wearing a seatbelt, and an airbag did not deploy, state police said. The impact of the crash knocked out power to the immediate area.

The cause of the accident remained under investigation today by state police, who have not speculated on what might have been contributing factors.

Kersias is the first Windsor Locks police officer to die in an accident since Christmas Eve 1968, when Officer Joseph O’Brien was struck and killed by a drunken driver after he stopped to help a disabled motorist, who was also killed, officials said.

Windsor Locks police Capt. Chester DeGray said Sunday that state police from Troop W in Windsor Locks, along with officers from his own department, arrived simultaneously at the accident scene.

He said that downed live power lines hindered rescuers from immediately beginning to extricate Kersias from his car until the lines were deactivated. The delay of about 20 minutes made the officers all the more anxious because inside the car was one of their own.

Kersias was unconscious during that time, DeGray said.

Once extricated from the car by firefighters, Kersias was flown by Life Star helicopter to Hartford Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, he said. State police said he succumbed to head and neck injuries.

According to DeGray, the close-knit 25-member Police Department is still trying to come to terms with Kersias’ death, which he described as a tragic loss. He said Chief John Suchocki, who’s been on vacation, was notified of Kersias’ death and was due to return to Windsor Locks tonight.

“Anytime you lose an officer, it’s difficult,” DeGray said.

Having worked 34 years for the Police Department — he began there on Sept. 13, 1974 — Kersias could have retired years ago but didn’t.

As to why Kersias stuck with police work for so long, DeGray said, “I think he just liked it. It was still enjoyable to him, so he chose to stay ... .

“He was always a very happy person and always had a smile on his face,” the captain added. “He was well-liked by the department and the community.”

Kersias had worked his last shift during the day on Friday.

On Sunday the right-side tire tracks from Kersias’ Mustang were still visible in the grass in front of Friendly’s. The Skyline Restaurant, visible from the crash site, was flying its flag at half-mast. A note from his friends at the Skyline, written on a paper flag taped to the new utility pole, read, “Kenny, we all love you. Love, Skyline.”

Another note from his Skyline friends read, “We will miss you so very much. We love you. Enjoy your new wings.”

Kersias, who grew up in town and graduated from Windsor Locks High School, seemed to know everybody and was known around town simply as “Kenny” or “Kenny the cop,” those who knew him said. He never married and had no children.

“The community was his family,” Dunlap-Jones said.

As an only child, he was particularly close to his mother, Carolyn, who lives in Windsor Locks and depended on him, those who knew him said. His father, Victor, had died years ago.

First Selectman Steven N. Wawruck Jr. said Sunday that he’d known Officer Kersias his whole life, having attended Windsor Locks High School with him, although Kersias was a year or two younger.

“It’s a tragic loss to the community,” Wawruck said. “It’s a terrible loss, and it will take a while to get over, if you can ever get over a loss like that.

“Kenny was a dedicated officer to the town, to the community,” he added. “He was a young guy cut down in the prime of his life. He was a fun-loving individual, a great guy to talk with. He will be sorely missed.”

Counselors are being made available to help police officers deal with the loss, said Wawruck, who visited the accident scene on Saturday.

On Sunday Wawruck was headed to Kersias’ mother’s home to offer his condolences in person.

“My sympathy, my condolences, and my prayers are with Mrs. Kersias at this time. He was very close to his mother,” Wawruck said of the officer.

Dunlap-Jones said police officers accompanied by a priest went to the home of Kersias’ mother on Saturday and took her to Hartford Hospital to see her son.

She said his mother is devastated by the loss, and during a visit with her on Saturday said, “My Kenny, what am I going to do now without my Kenny?”

Neal Cunningham, chairman of the Police Commission, described Kersias’ death as “a big loss.”

“He’d been on the force 34 years. Everyone knew and liked him,” Cunningham said. “He’s the kind of officer you want. He’s from here, and having ties to the community it was more than just a job.”

Selectman Joseph R. Calsetta grew up with Kersias and, like many others, just called him “Kenny.” The last time Calsetta saw him was recently at the Police Department when Kersias was showing off his new Mustang.

“It’s a tremendous loss. It’s tragic,” Calsetta said Sunday. “He was a lifelong friend. He was a standup guy, and he always had Windsor Locks’ back. He had a personal touch to everything he did. You couldn’t find a more compassionate human being than Kenny Kersias.”

Someone who knows that first-hand is Fran Aniello of Windsor, the recently retired athletic director at Sufifeld High School whose life Kersias helped save more than 2½ years ago.

The two men knew each other from their days at Windsor Locks High School and regularly chatted when they happened upon each other at the Bradley Teletheater in Windsor Locks.

On Jan. 7, 2006, Kersias was working a private duty job at the Bradley Teletheater, and for Aniello, it was lucky he did.

As Aniello walked back to his table he suddenly felt ill. Kersias happened to be 10 to 15 feet away.

“I yelled for Kenny, and then I collapsed,” Aniello said. “He was there to call the paramedics right away and did whatever was necessary.”

It turns out that Aniello had an aortic aneurysm that burst, and he came close to dying that day. Kersias was among those who helped save him, giving him a second chance at life.

When Aniello recovered and eventually ran into Kersias again, he thanked him for what he did. But Kersias would have none of it.

“He didn’t want to take credit for it,” Aniello said. “He was a low-key guy. He said, ‘I was just doing my job.”’

On Sunday Aniello said he was still in shock over Kersias’ death.

“It’s so sad,” Aniello said. “It’s a big loss, and I’m sick to my stomach about it.”

Besides his mother, Kersias is survived by his godmother, Lorraine Lemire of Bloomfield.

Calling hours will be held Wednesday at the Windsor Locks Funeral home, 441 Spring St., from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

At 9 a.m. Thursday a procession will form at Windsor Locks Funeral Home and proceed to St. Robert Bellarmine Church, 52 S. Elm St., where a Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Kersias at 10 a.m. Burial will follow in St. Mary Cemetery.
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