Former Ind. officer dies from line-of-duty injuries
Officer Kenneth Lester died from debilitating injuries sustained in a 1995 on-duty collision
Duty Death: Kenneth Lester - [Richmond, Indiana]
End of Service: 02/10/2020
RICHMOND, Ind. — When Officer Aaron Stevens thinks about Officer Kenneth Lester, he thinks about a large man with a big heart. And, he thinks about a friend.
Lester, 62, died Feb. 10 at Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis. He sustained debilitating injuries in an on-duty traffic accident Feb. 17, 1995, and complications from those injuries led to Lester's death.
As such, he is the fifth Richmond Police Department officer to die from injuries sustained in the line of duty, and the 15th from Wayne County law enforcement agencies. Lester is the first county officer to die in the line of duty since Master Motor Carrier Inspector Bob Pitcher of the Indiana State Police died in an interstate accident Sept. 26, 2010.
Lester's funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at Doan & Mills Funeral Home, 790 National Road W, with Chaplain Tom Canon, the police department's chaplain, officiating.Visitation will be 4-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, at the funeral home.
Stevens was in his car when he received the call that the officer who helped train him, the officer with whom he often rode during third-shift patrols, his friend, had died.
“I had to pull to the side of the road to pray, reflect and cry," said Stevens, who has served 34 years with RPD.
He thought about Lester's wife, Polly; his son, Andrew; and his daughter, Kendra, and he thought about the unfortunate end to Lester's RPD career.
"He loved his kids; he loved his wife; he loved his K-9 partner, Cheri; he loved his job," Stevens said of Lester, whose father, Donald, had been a state trooper.
Lester was driving south on Eighth Street toward a call. A semi-tractor trailer next to him turned right from the left lane toward H Street, striking Lester's vehicle. Lester's injuries were severe, while Cheri sustained minor injuries. Lester's injuries ended more than 14 years of service to RPD, and he battled them the rest of his life.
"It's a sad time for the department," said Major Jon Bales. "He is remembered very fondly by many officers of the department."
Lester's badge number, 149, was permanently retired by RPD, Bales said.
Despite the 25-year gap, Lester's death is considered in the line of duty, according to Bales. He is RPD's first line-of-duty death since Patrolman John Hennigar was killed Oct. 22, 1924, in a motorcycle accident while engaged in a pursuit.
As such, Lester will be honored locally and nationally, Bales said. His name will be included with the other 14 Wayne County officers who died in the line of duty when honored during annual Peace Officers Memorial Service, his name will be inscribed on the monument in front of Richmond's Municipal Building, and he will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
"It's a reminder that this is a dangerous profession," Bales said. "Officers across the country make the ultimate sacrifice on a daily basis. He was a respected officer by the community and his peers who had an unfortunate accident."
Stevens said he visited Lester's hospital room in Indianapolis after the accident, hoping his friend would be OK. Nine years earlier, their roles had been reversed. A tree struck by lightning had fallen on Stevens' car, injuring Stevens enough that he was in a coma for several days.
“When I came out of that coma, Kenny was one of the first faces that I saw next to my bed,” Stevens said. “Even when I was recuperating, Kenny would come and check on me at my house.”
The two officers had found common interests in sports, nature, fishing and World War II, including B-17 bombers, Stevens said. And, of course, police work.
“I learned a lot from him," Stevens said. "I learned how to be lighthearted when it required it, to be professional and also to be stern when necessary."
Bales described Lester as a "mountain of a man." Stevens said he was 6 feet 4 inches tall and more than 275 pounds.
"He was not a small person, but he had a huge heart," Stevens said. "It would be easy for anyone to lose sight of how humane and personable he was because you could get lost in his size and his stature.
“I can still hear his laughter, and I can still hear his voice.”