December 21, 2014

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Police, friends mourn slain officer

AVON — More than 50 police cruisers ushered the body of Cleveland Heights Police Officer Jason West home to Avon on Sunday, a day after he died from gunshot wounds suffered while on duty.
West, 31, an Avon native, was pronounced dead of multiple gunshot wounds at 3:05 a.m. Saturday at Huron Hospital, Assistant Cuyahoga County Coroner Dr. Andrea McCollom said.
West was shot around 10 p.m. Friday night, when he responded to the scene of a large fight in Cleveland Heights and attempted to block a vehicle in with his cruiser. He was shot in the face and the leg as he exited the vehicle, the coroner said.
Charges still are pending against 27-year-old Timothy Urshon Halton Jr., who was arrested later that night, according to Cleveland Heights police.
As news of West’s death spread, police departments from surrounding communities lowered their flags to half staff, and black “mourning bands” were placed over local police badges.
Avon Police Patrolman Josh Stell played football with West while they attended Avon High School and had the honor of driving his family members in the motorcade’s journey to the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s office and back to Misencik Funeral Home in Avon.
He said the family cried when they saw people waving flags as they drove by, but were appreciative of the outpouring of support.
“It’s hard to take it all in,” he said. “You can feel the sadness.”
The motorcade’s numbers grew as it proceeded west from Cuyahoga County with more and more police cruisers joining as it made its way past their respective city limits.
Cleveland Heights police cruisers were joined by Cleveland, Lakewood, Rocky River, Westlake, Avon Lake and Avon, and rode with lights flashing past West’s parents’ home in Avon before making their way to the funeral home.
West’s coffin, draped with an American flag, was ushered in under the salute of officers and before the tearful eyes of friends and family.
Linda Krystowski met West when he dated her daughter while they were freshmen at Avon High.
He had dreams of becoming a baseball player, she said, and hung around the Krystowski household so often that he was considered a second son of the family.
“He was a pleaser,” she said. “He was the type of person who would do whatever you’d ask of them and expect nothing in return.”
Willie Zambrana also met West while in high school and said the two grew to become the best of friends.
As the best man in Zambrana’s wedding, West confided in his friend his hope to one day have a family of his own.
“He wanted to settle down and have a family,” Zambrana said. “He loved kids.”
West graduated from Avon High in 1994, and took his love of baseball to the collegiate level at Tiffin University.
After graduating, he entered a local police academy and was hired by the Garfield Heights Police Department before graduating —a sign that the department was impressed by his character, according to friend and mentor Tom DeChant.
DeChant grew up next door to West and was an Avon police officer when he received a call from West inquiring about a police internship. West was soon carrying out duties around the station, DeChant said, and learned what it took to become a police officer.
“He was a good person, but an even better police officer,” he said. “It was in his nature to help people.”
West went on to become a seven-year veteran of the Cleveland Heights Police Department and had recently been promoted as an investigator. He was one of the department’s “motor officers” that rode a police-equipped Harley-Davidson motorcycle while on patrol, DeChant said.
Garfield Heights Police Chief Martin Lentz said it was West’s compassion for others that set him apart.
“You would be hard-pressed to find a better individual,” he said. “I’m going to miss him very much.”
Contact Stephen Szucs at 329-7129 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.