Zone 3 police plan fundraiser for family
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In her line of work, Pittsburgh city police officer Christine Luffey is exposed on a regular basis to human suffering.
But one recent tragedy has stuck in her mind.
On Dec. 4, a Saturday night, Nicole Cleland, 38, of South Park, was driving to pick up her husband, Mark Cleland, from work. In her Toyota Camry were her daughters Lexa, 7, and Kathleen, 11 months.
They were driving in the 3100 block of East Carson Street when police said a car crossed the center line and collided with the Clelands' vehicle.
Lexa died less than an hour later at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Ms. Cleland underwent surgery for a shattered pelvis, and lost her unborn child. Kathleen was treated for minor injuries.
Travis Isiminger of Holbrook is awaiting trial for third-degree homicide. He could face 20 to 40 years in prison.
An 18-year-veteran of the police department, Ms. Luffey, who works in the police Zone 3 station that covers the South Side, was not working the night of the accident. She heard about the accident the next day, and thought about her daughter, Katrina, who is about the same age as Lexa Cleland.
"It really, truly hit home with me," Ms. Luffey said. "I looked at [Katrina], and I really don't know how I would cope if something happened to her."
She did not know Nicole Cleland, but learned that they had mutual friends. She started asking about the family, and learned that Ms. Cleland would be in a rehabilitation clinic for an unknown length of time, that her family was struggling with medical expenses and that they would have to move to a more accessible home.
"I just said, you know, we need to step up and do something to help this family," she said.
So Ms. Luffey, working with Samantha Savoy of Brookline, who is also friends with Ms. Luffey, has organized a pasta fundraiser tomorrow at the United Presbyterian Church on Brookline Boulevard.
Olive Garden is donating the pasta, sauce, utensils and plates for 500 people, and Breadworks is donating the rolls. Each of the Pittsburgh zone police stations has been selling tickets.
"It's just coming together very nicely, but it was a huge effort, and the support that we received to help this family is overwhelming," Ms. Luffey said. "I think it touched so many people. I know that it certainly touched me."
Several Pittsburgh police officers plan to volunteer, including Lt. Shirley Sloan, the acting Zone 3 commander.
"This could have happened to anyone of us," Ms. Luffey said. "It could have been any one of us driving on Carson Street that dreadful night. I think that we need to come together as a community to embrace this family, to help ease their pain."
"Pasta by Police with Love" will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. tomorrow at 1036 Brookline Blvd. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for children and free for children under 5 and can be purchased at the church hall or at any of the police zone stations.
Donations can also be sent to Pittsburgh Police Zone 3, 830 Warrington Ave., Pittsburgh15210. Checks should be made out to Nicole Cleland.
First Published February 24, 2011 6:17 am