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Scotch Plains stunned by police chief's death

Staff Writer

SCOTCH PLAINS -- Police Chief Mark E. Zyla, a member of the force for 22 years, died suddenly Friday after he passed out while having dinner at a Fanwood restaurant, officials said.

The 46-year-old Zyla, who had been chief for a year and a half, was having dinner with friends at Sun Tavern on Thursday night when he suddenly passed out and lost consciousness, said his close friend, Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks.

Zyla was taken to Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield, where he died Friday morning, according to the Rossi Funeral Home.

Marks, who played softball with Zyla on a summer recreational team, said his friend did not have any known health problems.

"He was a young guy who happens to be a good friend. He played softball, he coached youth sports, and that was his life, in addition to being a dedicated husband and father," said Marks.

A graduate of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, Zyla received a bachelor's degree in accounting from Seton Hall University and attended the Union County Police Academy in Cranford.

After a year as a Union County police officer, he joined the Scotch Plains Police Department, working his way up the ranks to lieutenant in 2001 and eventually to cheif in May 2004.

"He rose rather quickly through the ranks. We had a lot of confidence in his leadership skills, and he was very well-liked and respected by his fellow officers," Marks said.

Marks and his softball buddies reminisced about Zyla's competetive nature on the field Friday afternoon, he said.

"It's ironic. He was very competitive and he might not have been the strongest player on the field, but in speaking with the other players, I think this was probably the best season he's ever had," Marks said.

Off the field, Zyla was a loving husband to his wife, Joan, and a proud father to his two daughters -- Kristin, a freshman at Boston University and Courtney, a seventh-grader at Terrill Middle School, Marks said.

"He just loved them so much. He would always talk about his family. He was planning on visiting his daughter at Boston University for parents' weekend," added Marks.

But what Marks remembers most about Zyla was his charming, self-deprecating sense of humor.

"He never took himself too seriously...when all was said and done, he was a great guy to sit around and have a beer with and laugh it up," said Marks.

A viewing for Chief Zyla will be held 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday and 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Monday t the Rossi Funeral Home, 1937 Westfield Ave. A funeral mass will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Bartholomew the Apostle Church iin Scotch Plains.

The family asks that contributions be made to the educational fund for Chief Zyla's daughters. Checks can be made payable to Joan Zyla, and will be accepted at the funeral home.

Giovanna Fabiano can be reached at (908) 707-3142 or [email protected]. from the Courier News website
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