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08/27/97 10:30 AM
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A long blue line of police officers from all over New York state march down Route 17M to the cemetery for Jason Conklin's funeral.
In middle photo from left, Joseph Sapienza, David Rosenthal and Glenn Bernard of the Rockland County Sheriff's Department escort a riderless horse. Above, the Ramapo Honor Guard carries the flag-draped coffin to its final resting place.
,500 cops bury a hero
Staff Writer
MONROE - Jason Conklin dreamed of becoming a cop.
He barely had one year on the job when he gave his life in the line of duty Thursday for the Tuxedo Park Police Department. His Ford Expedition police sports utility vehicle overturned on a curve, apparently while he was chasing a speeder. He was thrown out the open driver's side window. The truck rolled on top of him, and he suffocated.
Conklin, 22, was buried a hero in his hometown yesterday, as 1,500 police officers from throughout the region turned the Monroe Cemetery into a sea of dress blue and gray. ''I'm speechless,'' said Conklin's older brother, David, a Town of Tuxedo K-9 officer. ''This is unbelievable. It makes me proud to wear a uniform. I want to thank everybody.''
The phalanx of police officers, led by a motorcycle escort, marched the half-mile from the Smith, Seaman & Quackenbush funeral home on Maple Avenue to the cemetery on Route 17M. Two Rockland County sheriff's deputies rode on horseback. A third held the reins of a riderless horse, with black boots backwards in the stirrups.
The police officers - from New York City police to the tiniest departments in the Hudson Valley - stood straight-backed at attention in neat rows at the cemetery, their right hands locked in a salute.
Hundreds of police officers who never met Jason Conklin were there to honor one of their own.
''He's a police officer, and we owe that to each other, because it's such a thin line,'' said New York City Police Lt. Tom Downes, who lives in Orange County.
The Town of Ramapo honor guard fired three shots. A bugler played taps.
Conklin's parents, brothers and sisters leaned against each for support as the Emerald Society Pipes and Drums played ''Amazing Grace'' on bagpipes.
An honor detachment from the Clarkstown Police Department lifted the American flag off the birch casket, folded it, and handed it to Tuxedo Park Police Chief Bill Bortnowsky. He presented the flag to Conklin's mother, Sandy, who clutched it tightly to her chest with both arms. Conklin's father, Jake, kissed her on the head and hugged her as the family wept.
Conklin was buried in his uniform.
More than 250 people crowded inside the funeral home earlier in the day to hear a memorial service, led by the Rev. George Langberg. Hundreds of police officers listened outside over a loudspeaker.
Bortnowsky stood before Conklin's casket and remembered the day last year when Conklin walked into his office for the first time.
''He asked me for a job,'' Bortnowsky recalled. ''He said, 'I want to be a police officer.' He reminded me, most of all, of myself 21 years ago.''
Bortnowsky gave him a try as a part-time police dispatcher. He said Conklin was an immediate success. ''He was kind-hearted, a great, caring person.''
Bortnowsky decided to give him a chance. He sent Conklin to the Rockland County Police Academy. He graduated in June, and Bortnowsky made him a fulltime police officer.
Conklin's police vehicle was found on Tuxedo Road with his lights and siren on. He had been seen doing radar checks a short time earlier. The accident is still under investigation, and no speeder has been caught.
Bortnowsky said Conklin would be alive today if he was wearing his seat belt. Police officers and emergency services workers are exempt from seat belt laws.
''I think if Jason could speak to us right now, he would probably have a couple of things to say,'' Bortnowsky said. ''Number one, buckle up. Wear your seat belt, each and every one of you. I know I have, ever since that day. It scared me to death.''
The funeral home was filled with pictures of Conklin, from his boyhood days in Little League, to a teen-ager on the ski slopes, to a young man in his new police uniform. Family members recalled Conklin's lighter moments during the service, sometimes laughing through their tears. They remembered their brother going to the shore, eating Milky Way bars and hunting and fishing with his brothers.
''Jason was certainly one of a kind,'' said his brother, Steven. ''He was so proud he fulfilled his dream of becoming a police officer.''
After the service, two police helicopters flew over the funeral home, trailing off over the tree tops in the missing man formation.
The toughest cops grimaced and fought back tears.


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Copyright August, 1997, Orange County Publications, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc., all rights reserved