Sen. McLachlan and Area Legislators Honor Fallen Danbury Officer Hassiak

November 15, 2011

By ALICE TESSIER – Litchfield County Times

Holding a replica of the bridge memorial sign for the Hassiak family to take home are, from left, the late Officer Donald Hassiak ll’s sons Matthew, Luke and D.J.; behind them, state Sen. Andrew Roraback; state Rep. Janice Giegler; Kimberly Duff Hassiak, the officer’s widow; state Rep. David Scribner; state Rep. Clark Chapin; Danbury Police Chief Alan Baker; and behind Mrs. Hassiak, state Sen. Michael McLachlan. All photos by Alice Tessier.

The sun shone brightly on Nov. 10, a day of cold crystalline memories and warm but poignant special tribute for the Hassiak family of New Milford.

Family and friends joined state and local officials and police officers from several municipal departments mid-afternoon to honor the memory of Officer Donald J. Hassiak II by naming the bridge just south of The Cookhouse on Danbury Road (Route 7) in his honor. The New Milford resident and 16-year member of the Danbury Police Department died last year at age 41 after being struck in a hit-and-run accident while biking to work along Danbury Road (Route 7).

Earlier in the day, the driver of the accident vehicle, James O’Neill of Bethel, was given a 30-year sentence, suspended after 14 years, in Litchfield Superior Court, according to Danbury Police Chief Alan Baker.

“Today is a very bittersweet occasion,” the chief said in an interview, adding that he was glad that it began with a sentencing that is “a significant incarceration.”

The chaplain of the Danbury Police Department, the Rev. Raymond Petrucci, said during the dedication ceremony that “we ask for comfort and healing.”

Referring to the memorial, he said that “like all bridges, it connects,” but the Officer Donald Hassiak Memorial Bridge “connects not only human beings to all eternity” but also interpersonal family relationships, including “husband and wife, father and sons.”

The officer was the husband of Kimberly Duff Hassiak and father of three sons: Matthew, who is now 9; Luke, 8; and D.J., 6. His survivors also include his parents, Donald and Marilyn Hassiak of New Milford, and a brother, Peter, and his wife, Terri, of New York state, as well as other family members and friends.

The officer’s widow said during the ceremony that she and her family have been sustained by a caring community and gave special thanks to state Sen. Michael McLachlan and other state as well as local officials for honoring the memory of her late husband.

Her youngest son, she said, perhaps expressed the significance of the tribute the best, noting that D.J. told her that “not everyone gets a bridge named after him when he dies but my dad did, because he was special. He was a police officer and a hero.”

Sen. McLachlan (R-Danbury) had proposed commemorating the officer’s memory by naming the bridge after him.

“I thank the Hassiak family for the opportunity to honor Officer Hassiak in this very small way,” he told the gathering, among whom were state Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen); state Rep. David Scribner (R-Brookfield), the ranking member of the House Transportation Committee; state Rep. Clark Chapin (R-New Milford); and state Rep. Janice Giegler (R-Danbury), as well as other officials and members of the Danbury, New Milford and Waterbury police departments.

Several people who attended the ceremony noted the composure of the Hassiak children, who mingled with family and friends before the ceremony and then led the gathering in the pledge of allegiance to the flag.

“Good parenting,” Chief Baker said in an interview. “It shows. It counts.”

“The kids were great. It’s a tribute to both of their parents,” said Sen. Roraback in an interview later that day.

After the ceremony, as those assembled headed into The Cookhouse restaurant for a reception and an opportunity to visit with the Hassiak family, Officer Hassiak’s mother was willing to share a few words.

“I think the bridge is something the boys will always have, will remember as important,” she said.

Mrs. Hassiak acknowledged that hers is “a good, strong family,” and when asked to what she attributed that, she responded, “It’s love.”

Chief Baker said in an interview he thought it was fitting to have the ceremony take place the day of the sentencing.

Mr. O’Neill reportedly had pleaded guilty to charges of misconduct with a motor vehicle, tampering with evidence and evading responsibility in an accident that results in a death under the Alford Doctrine, meaning that while he admitted that the state had evidence to convict him he also maintained his innocence.

Although police stated that Mr. O’Neill was intoxicated when they found him several hours after the accident, they could not prove that he was drunk when the accident occurred, according to court documents.

Mr. O’Neill’s sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment, suspended after 14 years, also includes five years of probation.

This story includes previous staff reports.