Fallen trooper's family donates devices to help police keep impaired drivers off Pa. roads
PUNXSUTAWNEY – PSP Trooper Kenton Iwaniec's friends referred to him as “The Shepherd,” or “Shep.” When he and his friends would go out, he was the designated driver.
“They called him 'Shepherd,'” his father, Ken Iwaniec, said Friday. “When they'd go out, he would get them home. We'd say, 'Are you going out?' His friends said, 'Yeah, Shep's got us.'”
There was no designated driver for Kristina Quercetti, 41, of Landenberg, who, while traveling 73 mph in a 45 zone, crossed the Route 41 center line, sideswiped one vehicle and then struck Iwaniec's personal vehicle head-on March 27, 2008, after he finished his shift at the Troop J Avondale station, Chester County. He died two hours later in a Newark, Del., hospital.
Iwaniec, 24, had served as a state trooper only three months at the time of his death.
Despite their lives being changed forever in the aftermath of their son's death, Iwaniec's parents, Ken and Debra Iwaniec, have been fighting for victims and families devastated by impaired drivers, and supporting law enforcement in their efforts to get those drivers off the road.
Friday, at the Troop C headquarters in Punxsy, the Iwaniecs presented eight personal breath test (PBT, or a portable breathalyzer) instruments to representatives from each station – Punxsy, Clarion, DuBois/Falls Creek, Kane, Ridgway and Tionesta – in Troop C. The couple had also presented a PBT to a representative from the Clearfield station at a previous event.
“These tools might not always be available,” Ken told troopers gathered during the presentation Friday. “They might be spread out. Our goal is to put one in every station.”
A label bearing Iwaniec's image appears on each of the PBTs that troopers accepted Friday, as a reminder that they are fighting the same fight as their fallen comrade.
Lt. Kevin Doverspike, the patrol section commander for Troop C, said the PBT measures the amount of alcohol in a person's system as a preliminary step for the investigating trooper. Also, if an obviously-impaired person's system shows no signs of alcohol, the trooper can know that there is another substance causing that person to be impaired.
“They're more invaluable to this day,” he said. “The trooper can dig further and find the cause of the impairment.”
Indeed, troopers are finding that impaired drivers are operating vehicles with not just alcohol in their systems, but sometimes drugs and other controlled substances.
Most stations already have PBTs, but the Iwaniecs' donations supplement the stations' supplies, so there are more devices for more troopers to use.
“We stay in close touch with the Pennsylvania DUI Association, so we see results (and figures),” Ken said. “Last year, DUI arrests were up, and deaths were down. So it works.”
According to police, when she struck and killed Iwaniec, Quercetti's blood-alcohol content was already 0.34 percent – more than four times the legal limit – and she was also under the influence of Oxycodone. The headlights of her Chevrolet Tahoe were off at the time of the 10:15 p.m. crash.
Quercetti was sentenced to eight-and-a-half to 17 years in prison for homicide by vehicle while DUI; endangering the welfare of a child, as her four-year-old son was in the vehicle at the time of the crash and was uninjured; two counts of recklessly endangering another person; and possession of Oxycodone.
Thus far, the Iwaniecs, of Ligonier, have donated more than 140 PBTs to state police stations in Pennsylvania. They — along with sponsors such as Kenton Iwaniec's alma mater, St. Vincent College in Latrobe, and the Pittsburgh Steelers — host a number of events and fund-raisers, such as the Take Off, a running event scheduled for April 21, 2012, at St. Vincent, to raise funds to purchase and donate PBTs.
As strong supporters of anti-DUI efforts in Pennsylvania, the Iwaniecs have also attended and spoken at a number of events around the state. They learned about PBTs at an event hosted by the Pennsylvania DUI Association in Lancaster, where Debra attended one event, and Ken attended an event specifically about the PBT.
“We want to help as many troopers as possible,” Ken said. “Eighty-five percent of people who are born in Pennsylvania stay here. Why not make it a better state?”
“We are continuing Kenton's legacy,” Debra said. “It keeps him fresh in our memories and our hearts.”
Service was in Kenton Edward James Iwaniec's blood, his parents said. A 2007 graduate of St. Vincent College, he enlisted in the Merchant Marines and served a year at sea, but realized that life – mainly being apart from family – was not for him.
He enlisted in the state police in June 2007, graduating in December of that year.
“If it wasn't the Marines, it was the police,” Ken said of his son's early career aspirations.
His parents thought their son was possibly planning to propose to his girlfriend, Julie Kromer, on an upcoming family trip to Europe, where one of his three sisters was stationed with the Air Force. Iwaniec had the ring, but was killed before he had the chance to propose.
Ken said his family later had the engagement ring blessed, and he presented it to Kromer on his son's behalf.
During the holidays and family get-togethers, the Iwaniecs' dinner table for six is now missing one person, Debra said, but “God is good, and we know without a doubt that Kenton is there with Him.”
He sends signs, she said: White heart-shaped pebbles on a beach on the English Channel during their trip to Europe, or via a thaw on a pond near their home. They are also inspired by state troopers for whom they strive to support in their mission.
“When you're on the road, getting that DUI offender, my son is with you,” Debra told troopers.
She said she remains in awe every time she sees a trooper on the road performing his or her duties.
“He was proud to wear your uniform,” Debra said.
“Although Kenton's career with the state police was not a lengthy one, we are sure he would have impacted this state in a very positive way,” Captain Scott Neal, Troop C commanding officer, wrote in a statement, as he was unable to attend Friday's presentation. “This is very evident when you hear and read about Kenton and get to know his life story. Because of his actions and the accomplishments of Kenton's family, he will be forever remembered.”