Tuesday, September 4, 2012

5K to honor fallen officers, county police sergeant

     As a 17-year veteran of the Allegheny County police force, and long-standing member of its SWAT team, Sgt. Perry Vahaly confronted countless dangerous situations in his work.

In March 2010, for example, he was set up in sniper position on top of an armored police vehicle when an armed 25-year-old North Side man holed up in a motel on Route 65. The man held police at bay for more than four hours before fatally shooting himself.

So when Sgt. Vahaly, 44, died early Saturday after his motorcycle hit a deer on Route 51 in Rostraver, Westmoreland County, it was so unexpected that county police Superintendent Charles Moffatt could only shake his head.

"It's unbelievable," he said Monday.

Sgt. Vahaly, the county police patrol supervisor at the South Park barracks, had worked security Friday evening at the Rib and Wing Challenge at the South Park Fairgrounds. The accident occurred after his shift ended, while on his way to meet his wife, said his friend and colleague Lt. Michael O'Keefe. Police said the deer ran into his path at 12:41 a.m.

Lt. O'Keefe said the couple has six children, four boys and two girls, ranging in age from 15 months to 17 years old.

"The guy was utterly fearless, but he was like a big teddy bear with his kids," said Lt. O'Keefe, currently stationed at the North Park barracks and a fellow SWAT team member with Sgt. Vahaly.

A fixture in the South Hills for the past decade, Sgt. Vahaly "was the kind of guy who was really respected, not only by his peers but by the officers who worked for him. He was a can-do guy," said Superintendent Moffatt.

"Everyone knows this guy," said Lt. O'Keefe.

A Jefferson Hills resident, Sgt. Vahaly was an Air Force veteran who earned a master's degree in criminal justice at Point Park University. During his career as a police officer, he worked in general investigations and narcotics.

On a personal level, said Superintendent Moffatt, Sgt. Vahaly "was very outgoing, very easy to get along with."

The respect his fellow officers had for him makes Sgt. Vahaly's death that much harder for him and his colleagues, said Lt. O'Keefe.

"Life goes on and we have to keep doing our jobs," he said, "but there are moments when you realize he's gone, and it just grabs you."

Thomas J. Burke, a security specialist and former police officer in Mercer County, said Monday that Sgt. Vahaly will be among the police officers honored at the Officer Down 5K race on Sept. 23 in South Park, with proceeds benefitting the Officer Down Memorial Page,

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