On a Friday night in January 1983, a dance at St. Athanasius RC Church turned from celebration to chaos. People fought in the West Oak Lane streets, so police were called to Limelkin Pike and Walnut Lane. Some brawlers refused to disperse as ordered. Others were infuriated that some bad seeds ruined what was a good night. It wasn’t pretty.
That was the scene to which police Officer Richard Lendell and his K-9 partner King responded.
It quickly spread across several blocks, as events involving upwards of 1,000 people tend to do. But, when Lendell drove his patrol Jeep around the corner to Middleton Street, heading toward Ogontz Avenue, fellow officers knew something was wrong. He drove erratically, hitting several parked cars. When the Jeep came to a rest across Ogontz, they saw he was suffering.
One officer rushed to Germantown Hospital to get a doctor. This was necessary because King was protecting Lendell to the point that officers couldn’t get to him. As people threw bottles and other items at them, officers were able to subdue King, and get Lendell medical attention. It wouldn’t help. The 42-year-old would later die at the hospital from the heart attack he’d suffered.
“Some of those officers who tried to render aid are here today,” said Bob Ballentine, FOP Lodge 5 recording secretary said at a Wednesday ceremony to dedicate a memorial Hero Plaque at St. Athanasius.
Ballentine was speaking for more than the union, though. He sponsored the plaque dedication because that 1983 night, as a Northwest Detectives investigator, he was assigned to look into Lendell’s death.
He said he quickly determined that Lendell died in the line of duty so when he saw his name on the list when the plaque program started in 2004, he knew what he had to do.
What he did culminated with Wednesday morning’s ceremony attended by law enforcement officers, students, neighbors, well-wishers and Lendell’s survivors. Streets were temporarily closed down. Officials spoke. Hymns were sung by the school choir. A priest noted that Lendell “was taking from us as he sought to protect his fellow citizens.” Officers in both white and blue shirts stood in formation as a bugler played “Taps.” Bagpipes delivered “Amazing Grace.”
“We just want you to know we will always remember you, and we will always remember him,” Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross told Lendell’s sister Carol Hopkins, niece and other relatives.
James Binns, the attorney behind the Hero Plaque program noted that the ceremony — attended by well over 100 people — was a remarkable “civics lesson for these students.”
Of the police, Binns said, “We have to pay homage to these heroes. The same fate could befall any one of them.”
Lendell’s marked the last memorial plaque of the year and the 104th since the program’s inception.