Funeral is held for D.C. officer killed in car crash

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 6:37 PM

Scores of police officers from across the Washington region stood saluting in rain-drenched uniforms Thursday as drums and bagpipes sounded and the flag-draped coffin of D.C. Officer Paul M. Dittamo was carried from a church in Prince William County.

Then came the long funeral procession on the raw, gray afternoon. Dozens of police cars and motorcycles escorted the hearse 20 miles north, rolling ceremoniously past the D.C. police station where Dittamo worked, before returning to Prince William, where the first D.C. officer to die in the line of duty since 2007 was buried.

Dittamo, 32, a culinary school graduate who ran a pizza restaurant before joining the police force 16 months ago, was killed early Saturday when the patrol car he was driving slammed into a utility pole in Southeast Washington while he and his partner were responding to an emergency call, the department said.

On Thursday, hundreds of mourners filed into St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Lake Ridge, the officer's family filling the front pews.

"My brother was not a saint, but he did have a smile and a chuckle that could light up a room," one of his five sisters, Christy Bossard, said in her eulogy. "The only thing bigger than his smile was his heart." Looking at her family, she said, "And his heart takes me to his wife, Shana, who was the love of his life."

Dittamo, a 1997 graduate of Woodbridge Senior High School, was older than most when he entered the police academy in 2008.

After studying culinary arts at Stratford University, he worked for years in the restaurant business in the Woodbridge, Springfield and Fredericksburg areas, relatives said, including as managing partner of his family's Fox's Pizza Den in Lake Ridge.

A brother-in-law, Prince William police Sgt. Matt Mihalovich, got him interested in law enforcement, his family said in a statement. He joined the D.C. force "because that is where he thought he could do the most good and serve the people best."

"Paul did not need this job," D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier told the mourners in a halting voice. "The job needed him. And for that, we're grateful."

Dittamo was assigned to the department's most dangerous precinct, the 7th District, or 7D, covering far Southeast. About 1 a.m. Saturday, Lanier said, Dittamo and his partner were rushing to help other officers who needed backup as they struggled to subdue a suspect who was under the influence of the violence-inducing hallucinogen PCP.

"Every officer knows, when it's PCP, you hurry," Lanier said after the funeral.

The marked car went out of control and hit a wooden utility pole in the 1400 block of Morris Road SE, police said. They said Dittamo's partner received relatively minor injuries. The cause of the accident was under investigation.

In her eulogy, Lanier recalled the hours afterward. "On the long ride to the hospital, I thought to myself: 'What do I say to his wife? What do I say to his mom, his dad? . . . What words do I have to offer comfort to a family in circumstances like this?'"

She said softly, "Unfortunately, I didn't come up with any."

Police Cmdr. Joel R. Maupin, the top officer in 7D, said at the church, "While Paul was only with us for a short time, boy, did he make an impression." He said that at the hospital after the crash, "one of the supervisors said, 'The police academy and the recruiting branch really got it right this time.' Paul was a great police officer."

"I observed for myself how much he meant to his co-workers, how much they respected him," Maupin said. "The roll-call room was set up as a shrine to Paul this week. As we spoke of Paul, there was barely a dry eye in the room."

Bossard followed Maupin to the alter.

"About a week before my brother was killed, Shana told him the great news that he was going to be a dad," she said, as Dittamo's pregnant widow looked on. The rest of his family "never got to see the joy on his face of knowing this news. But we all know how big his smile must have been when she told him."

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