Funeral held for Cliffside Park Officer Stephen Petruzzello killed after being struck by SUV

CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. (WABC) -- Hundreds of police officers and mourners attended a church service for a special officer killed in an accident last weekend.

Stephen Petruzzello was a special officer in Cliffside Park for about a month before he was struck by a sport utility vehicle last Saturday while on a foot patrol. He died two days later and was promoted posthumously to full-time officer.

Public officials also attended the services held 10 a.m. Saturday at Epiphany Roman Catholic Church, including state Sen. Paul Sarlo and Bergen County Executive James Tedesco. Burial followed in Fort Lee.

As a special officer, Petruzzello could make arrests but did not carry a gun.

Just after 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 27, Petruzzello and his partner Thaier Abdallah were on foot patrol on Walker Street in Cliffside Park. The 22-year-olds were crossing the street when a Honda CRV struck them both, shattering the windshield. Both men were rushed to Hackensack University Medical Center. Petruzzello was critically injured, and died early Monday morning. Abdallah was not seriously hurt.

The wake for Petruzzello was Friday at the A.K. Macagna funeral home in Cliffside Park.

Flags around the state are flying at half staff to honor Petruzzello.

Anie Kalayian, a professor of psychology at Columbia University, was driving the vehicle that hit the officers. She told Eyewitness News by phone that this was an awful accident. "I'm in shock - we didn't see them. They were wearing black uniforms with no reflective stripes," said Kalayian.

Though Kalayian remained at the scene, the entire incident is still under investigation.

A memorial grew near the spot on Walker Street where the accident occurred. Petruzzello's ambition was to become a member of the police force.

A huge American flag flew over the street in front of the funeral home Friday. Several area political leaders, including New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, paid tribute to the Petruzzello family, along with police officers from other regions.

"We honor his service, and our condolences go to his family and to a community that's so closely knit," said Sen. Robert Menendez.

Petruzzello was remembered as a man who truly cared about the community he served.

"And it just was really sad that someone so nice who was trying to do something really good should be struck down in the prime of their life," said resident Anita Williams.

Cliffside Park Acting Mayor Council President Thomas Calabrese released a statement saying, "With a heavy heart, I am saddened to announce the death Special Police Officer Stephen Petruzzello. Officer Petruzzello died at 5:00 a.m. on December 29, 2014, surrounded by his family. My heart and prayers goes out to Officer Petruzzello's family, friends and all the members of the Cliffside Park Police Department. Officer Petruzzello died protecting the residents of Cliffside Park while on foot patrol. We will never forget Officer Petruzzello and the contribution he made to our community. On behalf of the Governing body and all the residents of Cliffside Park, I want to commemorate Officer Petruzzello's life."

Cliffside Park Police Chief Richard Gaito said in a statement, "This is clearly the saddest day I have had during my tenure as chief of the department. Officer Petruzzello was a bright, hardworking young man, with a lifetime of potential before him. Officer Petruzzello will sorely missed by all the members of the Cliffside Park Police Department."

Cliffside Park Police Commissioner, Councilman Kenneth Corcoran released a statement saying, "Today Cliffside Park lost a future leader and a dedicated Police Officer. My heart goes out to Special Police Officer Petruzzello's family during this very difficult time for them and for all the residents of Cliffside Park."
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