A sea of blue filled Amherst’s high school hallways Friday as teens rallied around classmate Christian Velez, mourning the death of his father.
Trooper Kenneth Velez, 48, of the Ohio State Highway Patrol was killed Thursday during a traffic stop on I-90 in Lakewood.
He was standing in the berm when a 2015 Hyundai driven by Joshua Gaspar, 37, of Columbia Station, swerved. Gaspar was under the influence of drugs when he hit another vehicle and Velez, according to court records.
He was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide.
Trooper Velez lived in Lorain but his three children attended Steele High School. Christian is a student there now, donning his #43 jersey and inspiring the Comets football team to a 54-13 win Friday night. Siblings Devin and Andria graduated in 2011 and 2013, respectively.
Principal Michael May made counselors available to students who needed to sort out their feelings about the tragedy.
He also gathered staff the morning after Velez’s death. “We asked them to watch out for the students the way they always do. They do a good job taking care of kids and each other,” May said.
Reaching out for memories of Velez, we didn’t have to look far. He has ties to News-Times photographers Randy Meyers and Joseph Colon.
A retired Lorain County sheriff’s deputy, Meyers remembers working with Velez on a dangerous call in the early 1990s as the trooper stopped a stolen car with two armed people inside.
Meyers and his partner received commendations for helping to resolve the situation without injuries or shots fired. He recalled Velez’s relief after the arrests.
“He thanked us extensively because it was such a tense situation,” Meyers said. “It could have gotten really ugly.”
Colon had known Velez much longer. They were childhood friends growing up in Lorain, playing summer baseball and going to church together.
“He had an infectious laugh. When he got giggling, you couldn’t stop him,” he said. What made him laugh? “He made himself laugh. That’s how funny he was.”
The last time Colon saw his friend was Sept. 9 as the Comets faced Midview.
“He was so proud of Christian. He yelled at me to grab a picture of him in action and I did,” he said.
He captured a photo of Christian making a tackle. Colon said he knows Velez saw it before he died.
Like many in uniform, Amherst police chief Joseph Kucirek also responded to the death.
“This is such a tragedy,” he wrote in a Facebook post Thursday. “There are no words to express the loss the law enforcement profession suffered today. I knew Kenny as a dedicated state trooper and a true gentleman. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ohio State Patrol and with Kenny’s family. You will be missed my friend.”
Velez’s body was escorted Friday from Cleveland to the Richard J. Reidy Funeral Home in Lorain. A funeral will be held Thursday, Sept. 22 though no location has been announced.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Kenneth Velez, called “Kenny V” by his longtime friends, was killed Thursday. He was the father of two alumni of Amherst Steele High School, where his youngest son now attends.