New Kensington police chief dies; autopsy set for today
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New Kensington police Chief Ron Zellers, known to fellow officials as a tough officer with a caring heart, died unexpectedly Thursday.
The 58-year-old law enforcement veteran was pronounced dead at Excela Westmoreland Hospital at 2:25 p.m. Rumors that he might have had a heart attack had not been confirmed Thursday night. Officials said his body had no obvious signs of trauma and an autopsy is scheduled for today.
Those who worked with Chief Zellers said he grew up near Irwin and joined the New Kensington police department about 25 years ago, serving as a patrolman and a detective before becoming chief three years ago.
"He was a hard-nosed cop through and through," said Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck, who worked with Chief Zellers for much of his career. "That was clearly one side of him, but there was another side that was extremely compassionate and loving and caring, particularly when you saw him with this daughter."
Before becoming chief, he spent many years in the narcotics unit, often covering the night shift and sometimes smoking a cigar or wearing a ponytail to help him blend in. He aided on some homicide cases and commanded "instant respect" when he stepped into the room, said Lower Burrell Detective Lt. Robert Galvanek, who worked with Chief Zellers for more than 20 years.
Still, friends said, it was his compassion that set him apart. When Lower Burrell officer Derek Kotecki died in a shooting while attempting to capture a fugitive outside the Dairy Queen on Greensburg Road in October, Chief Zellers volunteered to have his officers cover for Lower Burell officers as they grieved and worked with Pittsburgh police to coordinate funeral arrangements for the fallen officer.
"He pulled it together and he did it perfectly," Lt. Galvanek said of the services. "He was a good man, good friend, good policeman."
Funeral arrangements had not been set Thursday night. Chief Zellers is survived by a wife and a daughter.
First Published March 30, 2012 12:00 am