A fitting sendoff for one of their own

Of­ficer Bri­an Lorenzo al­ways made sure every de­tail of a fu­ner­al pro­ces­sion was cor­rect. Now, it was up to his fel­low of­ficers to do it without him.

Of­ficer Bri­an Lorenzo’s fam­ily com­ing out of the fu­ner­al mass at St. Peter’s and Paul Ba­cilica Church, Fri­day, Ju­ly 13, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

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 wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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