Cpl. Duke G. Aaron III, the Maryland Transportation Authority police officer killed last week when a motorist hit his parked cruiser, was laid to rest yesterday in a mournful ceremony that drew hundreds of police from all over the region.
Aaron, 29, from Pasadena, was remembered as a dedicated officer and husband who won his department's officer of the year award three times. Colleagues recounted how he saved the life of a woman who was trying to commit suicide by jumping off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and how he turned down promotions because he felt he could do the most good out on the highways.
Police in white gloves and dress uniforms spilled out of the funeral home in Pasadena, which could not accommodate the crush of officers who came to pay their respects. More than 100 area residents came, too, saying they were moved by Aaron's sacrifice. They wanted to witness the funeral, they said, even if that meant listening to the ceremony over a large speaker mounted to the funeral home's balcony.
Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) called Aaron "one of our best, one of our finest." Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said Aaron's death "underscores the dangers that all law enforcement officers face." And as Aaron's coffin was taken past a column of saluting officers to a hearse, police bagpipers played "Minstrel Boy." Aaron's wife, Jennifer Aaron, whom he had met on a blind date at the movies, trailed close behind.
Aaron, who worked the 7 a.m.-3 p.m. shift patrolling the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, died a week ago after police said Albert Gene Antonelli, 32, of Queenstown, Md., who was driving with a suspended license, smashed his pickup truck into the back of Aaron's cruiser. Aaron was parked beside the westbound lanes of Route 50 in Anne Arundel County, finishing paperwork on a citation he had just issued, authorities said.
A spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel state's attorney's office said a decision about whether charges will be filed against Antonelli won't be made until the investigation into the crash is complete, which could take weeks. Antonelli has a history of traffic violations and has pleaded guilty to possessing drug paraphernalia.
Aaron, a graduate of Chesapeake High School, was a "relentless ticket writer," Transportation Authority Officer Glenn Francis said, recalling that Aaron once wrote several speeding tickets while returning from a food run. When his colleagues complained that he had taken so long that their food was cold, Francis recalled, Aaron responded: "I couldn't let those people speed."
Aaron was also a bit of a prankster who liked to brag about the power of his pickup. He had a sweet tooth, and it was well known in the department that he kept a cooler full of junk food. When Aaron wasn't around, other officers would help themselves to his chips and soda.
"Well, one day Duke decided he'd had enough," Chief Gary W. McLhinney said yesterday. Aaron unwrapped one of his Twinkies, cut a hole in it and poured hot sauce into the middle, McLhinney said. Then he put the Twinkie back in its wrapper, hoping someone would take it.
"Let's just say no one ever touched his personal stash again," McLhinney said, as the audience burst into laughter.