Russ Long was one of Akron’s finest.
He was Hollywood handsome, buff with a square jaw and a shock of brown hair. He looked like a made-for-TV cop. In life, he was a true Akron patrolman.
His life changed in 1991 along a curve on Hazel Street. A violent crash while his partner drove in pursuit of a speeding motorist left Long, then 29, in a one-year coma. When he awoke, he learned he would never walk nor speak again.
Over the next 20 years, he became a symbol of courage to police officers all over Northeast Ohio. On Monday, his fellow officers remembered Long, who died last week after a three-month battle with cancer. He was 51.
Long’s funeral drew dozens of police officers from all around Akron as well as civic leaders, family and friends.
A steady procession of police cars and motorcycles followed Long’s hearse-driven casket down state Route 91 through Tallmadge and into Akron before heading east toward Hillside Cemetery in Randolph Township.
Akron Police Chief James Nice joined the department years after Long’s injury, but it wasn’t too long before he met the ever-present retired police officer.
“He is the bravest officer I ever met,” Nice said during his eulogy.
In the two decades that followed his injury, Long remained a fixture at police events. He also spent time at area police academies, talking through his computer to new officers about pursuits and the dangers they present.
In the Line of Duty, The Russ Long Story, a 2007 documentary narrated by Long’s daughter, Jessica, shows him playing with his children and working in his yard prior to the crash.
He also is shown afterward, in full uniform and in a wheelchair, continuing his efforts to educate other officers.
“If my story can save the life of one officer, then my sacrifice has been worth it,” a computer is heard voicing the words Long had typed.
The crash occurred in July 1991, when Long, then a five-year veteran of the department, and his Car 3 partner, Patrolman Gary Webb, encountered a speeding black Mustang GT. The 21-year-old driver of the sports car had a suspended license and refused to stop.
The chase through city streets reached 70 mph before Webb lost control of the cruiser and struck a utility pole on Hazel Street. Fellow officers looked at the damaged police car and didn’t expect to find survivors.
Webb was injured, but later recovered and returned to active duty. Long received a “life sentence,” the DVD producers said, while the driver of the Mustang served five years in prison.
Long, a father of three, would move in with his mother, Barbara, who became his primary caregiver for the rest of his life. Local citizens and police officers would join forces to raise money to build a specially designed home for Long and his mother in Randolph.
Fellow officers recalled Long as a man who maintained a wit, who lifted their spirits. Someone with tenacity, who didn’t need sympathy.
Nice, in fact, recounted the potential Long showed in his brief police career and remarked that he would not be police chief had it not been for the accident. Instead, he said, choking back tears, Long “would be chief.”
Long’s funeral attracted officers from throughout the region, including the University of Akron, Bath Township and Cuyahoga Falls. Mourners included Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and Summit County Common Pleas Judge Alison McCarty.
Police Chaplain Bob Denton recalled during his eulogy the humor Long displayed and how quickly he would type out a quip in response to a playful dig from a fellow cop. Denton marvelled at the devotion shown to her son by Barbara Long, as well as his friends, Frank and Diane Martucci.
Finally, Denton noted the diligence of Akron police to hold Long close to their blue line.
“Russ was a real cop,” Denton said. “He was proud of that blue.”