'Always did the right thing'
This story was reported by ZACHARY R. DOWDY, MICHAEL FRAZIER, ASHLEY HARRELL, MELANIE LEFKOWITZ, ROCCO PARASCANDOLA and BRYAN VIRASAMI. It was written by LEFKOWITZ.
Copyright 2005 Newsday, Inc.
He took care of everything - from his immaculate home and his young family to the Brooklyn neighborhood he patrolled.
After he moved his growing family into their own home in Elmont, he spent two years renovating it to make everything just so. Expecting his second daughter, he kept busy preparing their home for her arrival. He helped look after his ailing grandmother, visiting her almost every day. He studied diligently for a promotion exam to move up in the ranks of the New York Police Department.
So it was no surprise when he and his partner, newly assigned to the 70th Precinct's Conditions Unit, spotted a speeding car blow by a red light early yesterday and went after it. They chased the car into an underground garage for a fierce gun battle, even after Stewart had been mortally wounded by a shot.
"He had a big heart," said his sister, Sheryl Campbell-Julien, at her house in Valley Stream yesterday. "He always went out of his way to help others."
Stewart, 35, had been a cop for almost six years, all of them in the 70th Precinct in Flatbush. In that time, he'd earned four commendations for "excellent police duty," police officials said. But though he loved his work and looked forward to a long career with the police department, relatives said that at the end of each day, he lived for his wife and daughters.
He'd married his longtime sweetheart, Les-Lynn, nine years ago. Both were born in the Caribbean - he in Jamaica, she in Trinidad. He moved two years ago from Canarsie to a formerly abandoned house in Elmont, just over the Nassau County line, that neighbors said he'd transformed from top to bottom into a beautiful home.
The couple had two daughters, Alexis, 6, and Samantha, 5 months old.
"They were sweethearts from the beginning," said Odette Flemming, Stewart's cousin. "Obviously, the family is distraught. He was just a wonderful person, a family guy."
Stewart's mother, Winifred Flemming, recalled when her son told her about six years ago he was planning to become a cop. They were driving in a car, she remembered, and at first she reacted with alarm. "I told him, 'Baby, no, please,'" she said. "But he assured me everything would be OK."
Though she worried and prayed for him, his mother came to accept police work as part of who her son was.
"He was in it deeply," she said. "I think he really, really loved it."
That opinion was shared by Stewart's colleagues, who were not surprised by his final act of courage. All day long, cops streamed in and out of the 70th Precinct station, where the flag flew at half-staff and black and purple bunting was draped across the entrance.
"He was a very active officer. He was always involved and always did the right thing," said Ronald Paulin, 42, who said he often chatted with Stewart by their lockers between shifts.
"He's not a lazy guy. He definitely had you on backup," said another officer. "He's a good friend."
He was also a good sport - for instance, when he was teased about what friends described as his "big bald head."
Stewart's sister, who last saw him days ago at Thanksgiving, said she had a feeling that something terrible had happened when she saw a police car pull up to her house yesterday morning.
"I knew they were coming for me, to tell me that something wasn't right," she said.
Odette Flemming said she and other members of Stewart's close-knit extended family were gathered at the hospital, waiting, they thought, to visit him in his bed.
Instead, his wife came downstairs with the mayor and told them he had died.
Before becoming a cop, Stewart worked for nine years as an accounts payable associate in the finance department of WNYC, the public radio station.
"All he talked about was his family and being a police officer," said Brenda Williams-Butts, who worked with Stewart for five years at WNYC. "I remember him being so thrilled that he passed and was going to go to the academy, and kept saying he could do better for his family."
On the quiet street in Elmont where Stewart lived, neighbors - many of whom didn't know he was a cop - recalled watching him repair his house and tend his garden and offer other homeowners advice.
"He told my father what to do and how often to water the grass. Our grass was terrible," said Chawanda Bass, who lives next door to the family.
The brick, two-story colonial house with yellow siding was in pristine shape yesterday.
"Every time I saw him, he was always doing something, like in the yard," said next-door neighbor Donovan Brown. "He contributed to a lot of the work. I feel so bad for his wife. He was a really hard-working guy."
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