Lorenzo — ‘He had heart of gold’

Not forgotten: Highway Patrol officers often reflect on the loss of colleague Brian Lorenzo. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Underneath his paramilitary-style Philadelphia Highway Patrol uniform and his austere professional persona, Officer Brian Lorenzo was preparing to surrender to his warm, fuzzy side.

Having accomplished much during his 23-year police career, Lorenzo told close friends and colleagues about retiring to a life of leisure surrounded by his wife and children.

“He talked about how much he loved his kids. He was in his 40s like me and he used to talk about going home and playing with the little one, playing games with him and going places. … One of the things he said he was looking forward to was being a grandfather and playing with his grandkids,” Officer Daniel Martinez told the Northeast Times during a recent interview.

One year after Lorenzo’s death in a July 8, 2012, crash with a drunk driver on Interstate 95, members of his old unit still find it hard to believe that someone with so much joy and goodwill never got to fulfill his dream.

Members of the Lorenzo family did not wish to conduct news media interviews, according to their attorney, James Binns. The officer was 48 years old and survived by his wife, Linda, two adult children and a 4-year-old son. But Lorenzo’s fellow officers, when asked to speak about him in advance of the anniversary of his death, said he remains a constant presence in their thoughts.

“I still walk in here every day expecting to see him sitting in our operations room,” said Lt. Bill Lynch, Lorenzo’s supervisor in the Highway unit. “This year was really hard with the [motorcycle] Drill Team, expecting him to be up front.”

Lorenzo’s exemplary professional record has been well-documented. After starting his career in patrol districts, notably the 25th, he earned a transfer to the prestigious Highway Patrol in December 1997 along with 86 other cops. Twelve of those still work in the unit.

Members are known for their distinctive shiny black uniform coats and riding boots and perhaps notorious for their “alpha male” personalities, according to Officer Manny Perez, but Lorenzo transcended the stereotype while becoming a leader among the group.

He was so proficient on the unit’s emblematic Harley-Davidson motorcycles that it became his job to train the others how to ride. And he led the Drill Team, which is the star attraction at the city’s annual Hero Thrill Show.

“You hear everybody always say something nice about somebody who passed on,” Perez said. “But whatever you say good about [Lorenzo] doesn’t say how good a man he really was. The words don’t exist. He had a heart of gold.”

Knowing the ever-present danger of their jobs, highway officers were shocked to hear of his death and its seemingly random circumstances. Lorenzo was riding his motorcycle home on Interstate 95 after a shift when a motorist entered the highway in the wrong direction and struck the officer head-on near Cottman Avenue.

Lorenzo’s was classified as a line-of-duty death - — he was in uniform and operating a police vehicle. He was the first Philadelphia cop killed on duty in more than three years. His death occurred almost four years after another Highway cop, Patrick McDonald, was shot and killed by a wanted prison parolee.

“You can never be prepared to hear that. Pat McDonald and Brian were both from our [squad],” said Sgt. Maurice Rollins. “In that instance, the squad is devastated. It’s one of those things you never forget where you were.” ••

A memorial honoring Lorenzo adorns the wall of their station at 660 E. Erie Ave. in Juniata. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO