LIGONIER TOWNSHIP, Pa. (KDKA) — Pennsylvania State Police officials say a state trooper was killed when his police cruiser collided with a garbage truck early Friday morning in Ligonier Township, Westmoreland County.
According to state police spokesman Trooper Stephen Limani, Trooper Michael P. Stewart was on routine patrol with his partner when the crash happened.
“Obviously, we lost one of our members at our station here, so our station is grieving, as well as many of the people in the department,” Trooper Limani said. “Since Trooper Stewart was local, obviously, his family is grieving as well.”
It was around 2:20 a.m. when the crash occurred in the 3800 block of State Route 711, near the intersection with State Route 271. The cruiser was heading south while the garbage truck was pulling out of a parking lot trying to make a left turn onto Route 711 north.
“A police cruiser, being operated by Trooper Michael Stewart, was traveling southbound on Route 711 near the intersection of 271,” said Trooper Limani said. “At that same time, a garbage truck… was pulling out of a parking lot. The police cruiser collided with the driver’s side of that garbage truck; the brunt of the force took place on the police cruiser’s front driver’s side where Trooper Stewart was sitting.”
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Trooper Stewart, 26, of Latrobe, suffered major injuries and died at the scene. The Westmoreland County Coroner’s Office says he died of blunt force trauma to the head and ruled his death accidental.
His partner, Trooper Travis November, was injured and taken to a local hospital. His condition is not being released, but state police say his injuries are not life-threatening. He was suffering from hip pain, a concussion and possible pelvis injuries.
The driver of the garbage truck, identified by state police as 26-year-old John Hissem of Ligonier, was not hurt in the crash and is cooperating fully in the investigation.
Flags have been lowered to half-staff at the state police barracks in Greensburg as Trooper Stewart’s co-workers try to cope with the loss.
“I was asked earlier if he has some relatives, and he does have a brother, but he’s got 4,000-plus brothers and sisters that are going to miss him. I grieve for his family. We as a whole grieve for his family,” Trooper Limani said.
In a press release, Commissioner Col. Tyree C. Blocker says in a statement: “My thoughts, and the thoughts of the entire department, are with the family of Trooper Stewart during this difficult time. Trooper Stewart served the Commonwealth honorably, and we join all Pennsylvanians to mourn his passing.”
Trooper Stewart joined the state police in January of 2014 and graduated with the 138th cadet class. He was assigned to the Greensburg barracks in August of 2015. Before that, he worked for a year at the barracks in Chambersburg before coming home to Westmoreland County.
Trooper Limani said the fallen trooper would have celebrated his 27th birthday next week. He is described as an avid outdoorsman.
“He was a big man with an even bigger heart and a bigger personality that went with it,” Trooper Limani said. “He was extremely fun to be around, very charismatic, and pretty much, he touched everybody that got to enjoy his company.”
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The last trooper from the barracks that died in the line of duty was in 1992, so the loss has hit them hard as they try to investigate the crash.
“We’re doing a full-blown investigation when it comes to reconstruction of the scene,” said Trooper Limani. “The vehicles have been taken. The garbage truck was taken by our motor carrier enforcement team and it’s going to have an inspection. Our police cruiser been taken back to our impound lot where it’s going to have a complete inspection of the vehicle to see what condition it is.”
Gov. Tom Wolf offered condolences to Trooper Stewart’s family in a statement:
“Frances and I were deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Pennsylvania State Trooper Michael P. Stewart. This young trooper’s tragic death is a reminder of the selfless sacrifice made each day by every state trooper and their families.
He served his fellow Pennsylvanians, his troop and our Commonwealth with honor and integrity. We join all Pennsylvanians in mourning his loss, and send our sincerest sympathies, thoughts and prayers to his family, friends and all the women and men of the Pennsylvania State Police.”
Frances and I are deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Trooper Michael P. Stewart. We send our sincerest sympathies to his family. https://t.co/8o2LQBz33B
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) July 14, 2017
State Route 711 was closed between Wilpen Road and Deerfield Road. Crews cleared the scene after several hours and the road reopened around 10:15 a.m.
State police are working with Trooper Stewart’s family on funeral and memorial arrangements.