LAKEWOOD – Some people know their calling from an early age. Robert Tobias was one of those people.
“He grew up as a kid knowing he would be a police officer,” his older brother, John Tobias, said. “He loved his job.”
Robert Tobias was 21 when he started with the Manchester Township Police Department, the youngest officer at that time, John said. He had been with the department just over a year on May 17, 1975.
It was around 5:45 p.m. at mile marker 35.8 on Route 70 westbound. Officer Tobias was conducting a motor vehicle stop, standing at the driver’s side door, when another vehicle struck and killed him.
He was 23.
He was the first Manchester Police Officer killed in the line of duty.
The driver who struck him was charged with death by auto, possession of a controlled dangerous substance and operating an unsafe vehicle.
Forty-four years later, to the day, John Tobias said he can still picture his brother sitting in the chair in their mother’s living room, getting ready to go to work as if it were yesterday.
“Today is a special day. Every day is a special day,” John Tobias said.
He laid two red roses at the Ocean County Honor Roll memorial for his brother at the 28th annual Ocean County Law Enforcement Memorial Day Observance May 17, 2019. He planned to purchase a grave blanket to lay at Robert’s resting place at St. Mary’s after the ceremony and sit and talk with him.
“I know he is with me all the time,” John Tobias. “We all feel that way.”
The observance commemorates the ultimate sacrifice made by 18 law enforcement officials and their families in Ocean County since 1927. Family members, flanked by officers from their loved ones’ respective departments, laid roses in memory of those lost.
Lakewood Police Chief Gregory Meyer accompanied two sets of families to the memorial. His department lost two officers within 5 years: William “Niche” Pressler #270 on May 14, 2007, and Christopher Matlosz #317 on Jan. 14, 2011. Pressler died in a car crash on New Egypt Road when he swerved to miss a deer and hit a tree. Matlosz was shot and killed when he stopped a 19-year-old man walking along August Drive wanted on an outstanding warrant. That man was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Pressler’s death inspired the department to participate in the Police Unity Tour, the annual “ride for those who died” each May. Officers and their supporters ride bicycles to the Washington, D.C., National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
“We tend to appreciate our family more, our coworkers more,” Meyer said. Pressler’s death especially was one of the first many in the department ever experienced. “We got a tighter bond together. We’re hyper vigilant. It made us a better agency.”
The observance is held each year at the Ocean County Police Academy and is attended by law enforcement and government officials and families. This year, Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer delivered the keynote address, honoring all those who died but highlighting two officers his own office lost, Detective Tina Rambo on Aug. 1, 2011 and Detective John Stevens Jan. 21, 2015. He called both “dedicated public servants” and “kind and compassionate human beings.”
He also remembered those left behind: the families.
“There are no words that can lessen your pain, no speeches that will ease your grief. Just please know that we all join together on this special day, and every day for that matter, to honor your courage. …Though our hearts may be heavy as we grieve for our fallen and disabled officers, we must reject despair. We should not dwell on the circumstances under which our fallen officers have given their lives, but rather focus on how they lived their lives.
“…The best way to honor our fallen and disabled officers is to continue to do everything we can, with all that we have, to forge a safer and more just society. After all, that was the cause for which they surrendered their lives, and it must be our cause as well.”
Those remembered, and their end of watch, were:
- Cpl. Scott R. Thompson, Manchester Township Police Department, EOW April 10, 2015
- Det. John Scott Stevens, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, EOW Jan. 21, 2015
- Det. Tina E. Rambo, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, EOW Aug. 1, 2011
- Officer Christopher A. Matlosz, Lakewood Police Department, EOW Jan. 14, 2011
- Officer Jason Marles, Ocean Gate Police Department, EOW Nov. 25, 2010
- Officer William Preslar, Lakewood Police Department, EOW May 14, 2007
- Officer Robert Ventura, Jackson Township Police Department, EOW March 18, 2001
- Officer John Lesemann, Brick Police Department, EOW Aug. 30, 1999
- Officer Larry Dunfee Jr., Stafford Township Police Department, EOW April 27, 1981
- Officer Richard Harper, Brick Police Department, EOW May 4, 1978
- Officer Robert Tobias, Manchester Township Police Department, EOW May 17, 1975
- Chief Angelo Leonetti, Long Beach Township Police Department, EOW March 6, 1962
- Trooper Raymond Fiola, EOW Feb. 19, 1962
- Officer Hartley Richter, Lakewood Police Department, EOW April 8, 1946
- Marshal Arnold Johnson, Point Pleasant Police Department, EOW July 22, 1928
- Trooper John Ressler, EOW May 1, 1932
- Trooper Leonard McCandless, EOW June 28, 1931
- Trooper First Class Joseph Smith, EOW Aug. 4, 1927