Community gathers to honor fallen Wilmington officer

Reported by Gavin Johnson - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Hundreds of people gathered at St. Mark Catholic Church in Wilmington to remember an officer who died while on duty.

28-year-old Richard Matthews was responding to a call when he lost control of his patrol car early Wednesday morning.  He hit a tree and was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

A horse drawn caisson led Officer Matthews' flag draped coffin to St. Mark Catholic Church.

The procession included officers in uniform from across the state and the east coast.

"Sadness to have to go through this again," said Wilmington's Police Chief Ralph Evangelous.  "I've been through it multiple times in my career, and it never gets easy.  He [Matthews] volunteered and spent time in the community, and the fact he goes out and buys a kid a prize for his birthday - he doesn't have to do that - we don't pay him for that."

As Officer Matthews' mother read a statement during the service, you could see his bond with his co-workers goes beyond the law.

Even officers who didn't know Matthews say they are touched by his story.

"[Matthews was] very young, 28-years old," said former NYPD Officer Phil Rose.  "To me he's still a baby. It's so sad it really is. To die the way he did. He went to help one of his own."

The memorial service began with the New Hanover County 911 Center issuing the "Last Call" over the radio for Officer Matthews, using his radio call number.  When the call went unanswered, Dispatch called out his status as "10-42," which means out of service.

A 21-gun salute ended the service and Officer Matthews' parents walked behind their son's casket, knowing two communities are grieving with them.

There will be a funeral for Officer Matthews in his hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Saturday.  Several Wilmington Police Officers are expected to make the trip for the service.