OCEAN COUNTY – The 18 Ocean County police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty were honored and celebrated during the 26th Annual Ocean County Law Enforcement Memorial Day Observance, held at the police academy recently.
“Today we remember the officers who lost their lives in the line of duty, and to remember the lives they led,” said Freeholder Virginia E. Haines, who was one of the local government leaders who made comments during the ceremony. “They were heroes for the way they died, but also for the way they lived.”
Every 58 hours a police officer is killed in the line of duty across the U.S., she said. So far this year, some 48 officers have died. The average age is 42 and the average time on the force is about 14.5 years.
Ocean County is no longer a sparsely populated sleepy hamlet as it was in the 1960s when the population was about 54,000, Haines said. Today there are over 600,000 residents – which swells to over one million in the summer – and with the increased population comes what used to be considered urban crimes, she said.
“At some time in each of our lives, a police officer will be there at our most vulnerable time,” Haines said. “Behind each police officer is their family, who every day says a prayer for their safe return at the end of their shift.”
About two dozen family members of fallen officers attended the ceremony, including Lisa Preslar, 46, and her two daughters, Julia, 15, and Gracie, 14.
Her husband, Lakewood Police Officer William Preslar was on his way to a call when he
swerved to avoid hitting a deer and crashed into a tree, killing him instantly.
“We come every year, and this year is extra special because on May 14 it has been 10 years,” she said. “Every year they say his name and the kids get to hear it.”
Ten years ago this month police officers came to her door at 6 a.m. with the terrible news.
“They came to notify me. That knock on my door was the worst day of my life,” Preslar said. “The kids kept me going. They were four and five at the time and they needed a mom.”
People assume that since it’s been 10 years she is over her grief, she said, but it never ends.
“He’s missing everything. It’s not easy. Sometimes you think you’re doing okay, but then something pops up. Grief surprises you,” Preslar said.
She honors her husband’s memory by participating in the annual Police Unity Tour, a 300-mile bike ride to raise awareness for law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.
“It’s good to let your grief out. It’s healing,” Preslar said. “There’s always someone we can reach out to for help or support.”
Kelly Walsifer was only 24 in January 2011 when her fiance, Lakewood Police Officer Christopher Matlosz, 27, was shot in the head by someone he had stopped for routine questioning.
“I come here every year, I like to do it to remember him and see familiar faces,” she said.
“It’s been really, really hard with a lot of ups and downs.”
Walsifer came to the observance with her mother and her boyfriend of two years, who is also a police officer.
“You have to move on and move forward. Christopher would want me to find love and find happiness and life again. That’s what he was all about,” she said.
Walsifer was the store manager at Williams Sonoma in Sea Girt on the day Matlosz was killed, and she recalled getting a text message from a friend asking if she knew which Lakewood police officer had been shot.
“I just knew. I tried to call him like a thousand times, and no one answered, so I called the Lakewood Police Department directly, and the police chief told me to go to Jersey Shore Medical Center,” she said. “It’s every person’s nightmare.”
Each of the family members were accompanied by a police officer and given a rose to lay on the police memorial there.
The event was hosted by the Ocean County Chiefs of Police Association with support from the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Hundreds of area police officers attended the memorial observation, along with Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato, Ocean County Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy, local police chiefs, police motorcycle squads, bagpipes and honor guard.
The Ocean County Vocational Technical School Performing Arts Academy Vocal Ensemble and the Point Pleasant Borough High School Panther Concert Band performed for the attendees.