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Two recent cases reveal need to show first responders more respect

Updated: November 24, 2011 12:25AM

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The images of the police officers and firefighters who rushed to the scene that day serve as a tangible reminder that the overwhelming majority of these men and women do their best to serve and protect.

Frankly, two recent incidents involving local police are shameful when you consider the sacrifices of 9/11.

Less than a week after a 25-year-old woman was killed as she walked in the median of the Eisenhower Expy., her family has started the process of suing for monetary damages.

It was 3:30 a.m. last Friday when Illinois state troopers pulled Diana Paz over for driving the wrong way on the Eisenhower Expy.

She refused a Breathalyzer test and failed a field sobriety test, according to a spokesman for the Illinois State Police. Troopers arrested Paz and took her to the Westchester Police Department. She bonded out about two hours later.

At that time, she told police she “had no family or means of transportation” and requested a ride to a nearby gas station, authorities said.

What happened next was a terrible tragedy.

Thirty minutes after a trooper extended the courtesy of dropping Paz off, she was struck by a pickup truck on the Eisenhower Expy. as she walked in the median.

Paz’s family is now seeking all specimens and videotapes related to Paz’s blood alcohol level on that night — as if Paz’s death is someone else’s fault.

In fact, when Paz’s sister, Maria, talked to reporters, she questioned why a state trooper agreed to drop off her sister in the first place: “They should keep someone who is intoxicated until they’re sober. And if she’s still intoxicated they should have dropped her off at home. They should have done something better than dropping her off and leave.”

Diana Paz was the mother of a 5-year-old, so it is entirely understandable that this sudden, preventable death is hard to bear.

But what responsibility did the Illinois State Police really have to ensure Paz went straight home that night?

After Paz got out of jail, she certainly could have called her sister or a friend and asked for a ride.

From what I can tell, the state trooper who took Paz into custody did his job. He got Paz from behind the wheel and off the highway where she was a danger to herself and others.

Unfortunately, it is easier to see the shortcomings of law enforcement than it is to accept that a loved one’s poor behavior led to his or her death.

In another strange twist, the city is set to pay a $1.3 million settlement to the family of a 39-year-old man who died after he swallowed packets of heroin and cocaine.

John Coleman Jr. chose to swallow the contraband when police arrested him on suspicion of dealing drugs in the 100 block of West Division last year. During that arrest, it took five police officers and a Taser to subdue Coleman. Still, it is the police officers who are being blamed for Coleman’s demise.

According to the attorney representing Coleman’s family, police officers did not follow proper procedure when they failed to drive Coleman directly to a hospital.

“A police officer can be seen putting on black gloves, grabbing the suspect’s upper torso and yanking him out of the car before summoning an ambulance,” John Winters said.

Because the video showed police officers were aware that Coleman was in “distress,” and that made Coleman a “very sympathetic” plaintiff, the city’s lawyers recommended the case not go to a jury.

I could understand the $1.3 million settlement if police were accused of shoving the illegal drugs down Coleman’s throat. But there’s no claim of such a thing.

So this settlement makes it look like the city is rewarding illegal activity, which can’t be good for police morale.

After 9/11, many of us gained a deeper appreciation for the people who put their lives on the line every day.

I’d say Sunday is a good day to show these first responders a lot more respect.

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