Police Officer Brian Lorenzo knew every brass button of his dress blue blazer, every shiny contour of his patent leather riding boots and every chrome-plated inch of exhaust pipe on his Harley-Davidson Road King.
When duty called him to help bury a fallen colleague, Lorenzo led by example. He showed the members of Philadelphia’s Highway Patrol Drill Team how to don the uniform, finesse an 850-pound iron horse with surgical precision and escort a funeral procession with dignified glory.
But on Friday, Lorenzo’s brothers-in-arms were left to do it all on their own, relying on their memory of his tutelage and camaraderie to give him a fitting sendoff.
They laid their trainer, mentor, big brother and best friend to rest five days after an allegedly drunk, wrong-way driver struck and killed the 48-year-old married father of three on Interstate 95.
“(Lorenzo) was the individual you’d always see walking around making sure everything was taken care of,” said Officer Manny Perez, a 10-year Drill Team member. “There are always details you miss and he made sure you didn’t miss them. He was always on point. (Now) we can’t do it good enough for him.”
Lorenzo, a 23-year member of the police department with 15 years in Highway Patrol and five as a motorcycle instructor, would not have faulted their effort.
Working on little or no sleep, the full Highway Patrol gathered at the John F. Givnish Funeral Home at 3:30 a.m. on Friday to fulfill their special chain of protocols. Most had left the same funeral home mere hours earlier following Lorenzo’s Thursday evening viewing.
They parked their hulking white and blue machines along Academy Road and, for the ensuing hour, prepared themselves for the rollercoaster of emotions to come.
“I’ve been here less than a year and (Lorenzo) is the reason I got my wings,” said Officer Cedric Carter, one of the newest Highway Patrol and Drill Team members.
Highway Patrol, or simply “Highway,” is considered an elite unit within the police department, its version of a special-forces squad. Generally, the unit’s job is to patrol designated high-crime areas and to stamp out persistent problems.
Their signature clothing is black leather, and their preferred mode of transportation, the Harley-Davidson.
Among more than 6,000 sworn police officers in the city, several dozen comprise Highway Patrol. And among those, only a handful make it onto the Drill Team by demonstrating the highest motorcycle proficiency.
The Drill Team is the star attraction at the annual Hero Thrill Show, which raises scholarship money for the children of slain police officers. The group also serves many ceremonial department functions, including funerals. Everything its members do is on a volunteer basis and in addition to their regular Highway Patrol duties.
Highway Patrol officers earn wing badges when they pass the unit’s motorcycle training course. Drill Team members wear a star badge above their wings. Neither designation came easy to Carter, but Lorenzo guided him through the ordeal.
ldquo;He had the patience of Job,” Carter said. “He kept saying to me, ‘You got it, you got it.’ Any man who comes to Highway Patrol, the goal is to get wings. (For the Drill Team), it’s open tryouts. If you’re good, you make it. And those who make the Drill Team, it’s a direct result of Brian’s tutelage. He’s directly involved with every man who rides here.”
By 4:30 a.m. Friday, it was still more than an hour before sunrise. Yet, the Highway officers were assembled for roll call and final instructions. They stood at attention, saluting Lorenzo with white gloves, as pallbearers placed the casket into the gray hearse for a final ride past his family’s Somerton home and the journey Downtown to Police Headquarters at Eighth and Race Streets.
The Drill Team led the procession, riding in a reverse “V” formation to guide and shroud the hearse and along its route.
The first rider in formation carried the American flag on a standard affixed to his handlebars. Two trailing riders carried the Pennsylvania and City of Philadelphia flags. Two more riders carried the Philadelphia Police and Highway Patrol flags, while the rest of the team fell in behind the leaders.
Typically on such maneuvers, Lorenzo rode second or third wheel, carrying either the state or city flag.
“Brian’s been doing it for more years than I’ve been in the unit,” said Lt. Bill Lynch, the Drill Team supervisor. “His uniform would always look immaculate. His motorcycle would look immaculate. (Then) the whole unit would do that.
“He would be the guy I’d lean on.”
The full Drill Team consists of 12 riders and four alternates. On Friday, just 11 riders made the formation. Officer Jim Trainer carried the U.S. flag, while Officers Chuck Taylor and Bill Devine held the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia flags. But nobody took Lorenzo’s place.
“He had a passion. He was the best,” said Perez, who like Lorenzo has 15 years of Highway Patrol service. “Being on the Drill Team and in the (Highway) unit, it’s always dedication. “But he wanted to be the best at whatever he did.”
At 5:40 a.m., wailing sirens in the distance alerted commanders assembled in the Police Headquarters parking lot that the motorcade’s arrival was imminent.
The Drill Team peeled off as the hearse entered the lot, allowing pallbearers to again transfer Lorenzo’s casket, this time into a caisson – the horse-drawn carriage often utilized in the funeral processions of high-ranking military and government leaders.
The Philadelphia Police Department began using caissons several years ago during a rash of line-of-duty deaths in the department. Between May 2006 and February 2009, the city lost eight officers in that fashion, six as a result of gunshot wounds and two in vehicle crashes.
Though Lorenzo had ended his shift and was headed home when his fatal crash occurred, he was still in uniform and riding a department issued vehicle.
His colleagues in the department are certain that he would’ve done something to stop the wrong-way driver on I-95 that morning had he been able to avoid the crash.
“There’s no question in my mind that Brian saved at least one life that Sunday, maybe more,” Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross said.
Lorenzo’s procession departed Police Headquarters at 6:05 a.m. for the March to the cathedral. The Philadelphia Police and Fire Pipes and Drums band supplied the cadence.
It included a rider-less motorcycle with a black ribbon decal affixed to the fender, a helmet resting on the saddle and two boots strapped in reverse on the bike’s foot pegs. The symbolism echoed that also used on a rider-less horse in the procession.
The boots, placed in reverse, represent a leader looking back to review his troops one final time.
By rank alone, Lorenzo was not considered a senior officer. But by reputation, nobody could surpass him.
“He was a man who took his job and his oath very seriously, and he did it well,” Ross said. “You just can’t say enough about a man like that.” ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org