SPECIAL REPORT : Fair Lawn Police Chief Erik Rose was stopped in traffic when he noticed Officer Mary Ann Collura’s badge number stenciled on the rig in front of him. “I’ve gotten so used to seeing them around town,” the chief said of the stencil, produced by PBA Local #67. “Then I realized: Hey, it’s a brand-new truck. That means somebody went through the trouble of finding the stencil and painting it on.”
It’s eight years since Collur aFair Lawn P.O. Mary Ann Collura
, disregarding her own safety, was shot and killed while trying to help a fellow officer arrest a crazed ex-con.
But no one in town has forgotten — a fact that will be underscored by the expected turnout at the annual memorial for her on April 17.
That’s the same date that Collura was killed, and it will be held at the very spot where she was gunned down.
The 18-year veteran was Fair Lawn’s first female police officer and a shining light throughout the community.
“She’s not just missed by
the police department,” Rose said. “She’s missed by everyone. What she did while she was here affected people’s lives.”
A lifelong borough resident, Collura attended William Paterson College. She was so dedicated to public service that she nearly joined the Army before volunteering with the borough’s police reserves. Three years later, she was a cop.
While on the force, she established a program to give elementary school child glow sticks to wear at night for safety.
But that doesn’t even begin to tell the type of officer she was — respected, admired, loved — especially working in what can be a rough-and-tumble town. Her commendation file even contained a letter citing her professionalism from a motorist she had ticketed.
“I wanted to be on the road, taking it as it comes,” Collura once said, explaining her reason for becoming a police officer.
The words still haunt those who loved her, those who still visit her familiar grave in George Washington Memorial Park.
A Clifton cop was chasing a speeding ex-con on Route 46 when the pursuit headed into Fair Lawn. Collura was on her way when the driver — a 23-year-old drug dealer from Passaic named Omar Marti — lost control of his car, which ended up on the lawn of the Riper-Ellis/Broadway Baptist Church.
Marti tried to run, but the Clifton cop tackled him and was trying to pepper-spray him when Collura arrived. Marti, desperate not to go back to prison, pulled a gun and fired, hitting Collura twice. He then shot the other cop, got behind the wheel of Collura’s cruiser and drove over her while speeding off. Collura was pronounced dead soon after she was attacked.
She was only 43.
Investigators from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office traced Marti to a town just outside Tampa, Fla., where he was killed in a shootout with area sheriff’s officers — small consolation, given Fair Lawn‘s tremendous loss.
Fair Lawn Police Sgt. Richard E. Schultz recalled a spring day in 1999 when Collura bopped into his office and tossed a few papers on his desk.
“She told me it was some idea she came up with for giving young kids glow sticks to carry while trick or treating,” who now, as then, is the community policing supervisor. “She TOLD me to run with it, that I was the community policing supervisor so it was now MY job to do this.
“I ended up getting the funding we needed, got enough glow sticks for each grade school child that year and handed them out as part of our Halloween safety presentations,” Schultz recalls.
“What Mary Ann did not realize was that I gave her full credit for coming up with the idea.”
When the time came to take a public relations photo to launch the program, he said, “I had to order her to be in it.”
“This isn’t only as a fond memory of my friend but an illustration of the type of person she truly was.”
The practice has since become an annual tradition that has spread countywide. A memorial statue outside police headquarters even depicts Collura giving the sticks to a group of children.
“Mary was the person who got things done for others, even when she was never asked to do so,” Schultz said. “She was born to protect and serve. More often than not, she would hear of someone having an issue and she would just simply hand that person a piece of paper with a name and telephone number scribbled on it.
“All she would say is call that number and tell them Mary told you to call. Then without them knowing, she would call that person and tell them to take care of this particular resident.
“When I see a child carrying a glow stick, I am reminded of her,” Schultz added. “When I am out riding my motorcycle, I can see her riding ahead of me on her purple motor, leading me on a ride to nowhere. I miss my friend.”
This year’s memorial is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at a memorial on the grounds of the Van Riper Ellis/Broadway Baptist Church, 7-01 River Road.
“April 17th places us in the midst of the Easter celebration once again,” said PBA Local #67 President David Boone. “I have often reflected on the timing and the location of this horrible moment in time — and yet I am also comforted by the fact that it happened during Holy Week, which brings hope and peace to countless numbers of people all over the world.”
MORE INFO : www.fairlawnpbalocal67.com .
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