ADRIAN, Mich. - Police Lt. Tom Ray tells the story of how Officer Dennis R. Lyons stumbled across a bar brawl that spilled onto a dark Adrian street.
One of the suspects jumped up and fled, leading Officer Lyons on a foot chase down Maumee Street.
The suspect eventually pulled a gun on the pursuing police officer and fired a single shot, killing him.
Lieutenant Ray knows the details well because he has researched the incident over the last year.
It is a tale that he had never heard about until February, 2002, when a local historian uncovered facts of the killing. Since learning of the case, he and Adrian police officers have worked to gain recognition for the sacrifice Officer Lyons made in the line of duty.
Success materialized last month when Lieutenant Ray received notice that Officer Lyons' name would be engraved on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington on Peace Officers Memorial Day, May 15.
The officer's name - added 123 years after his death - will be one of 16,303 names on the monument.
“It just boggles your mind. How did something like this happen, and we didn't know about it?” Lieutenant Ray said. “For some reason, it kind of got lost over the years in the history books.”
The life of Officer Lyons is a mystery.
There is little mention of him in old newspapers, and there seems to be no photograph or image of him. But news of his death made headlines.
Local history buff and Lenawee County Historical Museum curator Charles Lindquist came across the story of Officer Lyons' death while researching the city's history.
It was his column, published in the historical society's newsletter, which brought to light the story of the first Adrian policeman killed on duty.
It happened on April 24, 1880. Officer Lyons was relatively new to police work - according to his marriage certificate in 1875, he was a shoemaker - and happened to be patrolling the night Doremus Aiken, a Civil War veteran, became involved in a bar fight.
Officer Lyons happened on the scuffle and pursued Aiken as he bolted.
The single bullet that Aiken fired hit the officer just above his left ear. He was buried April 26, 1880, in Oakwood Cemetery.
His killer was arrested on manslaughter charges. He was convicted and sentenced to eight years of hard labor in the state prison at Jackson.
On the officer's tombstone, which was eventually found broken off and partially buried, were the words, “Killed On Duty.”
“We know a lot about the city from the 1920s on but there is not much recorded history from between the Civil War and that,” Mr. Lindquist said. “I'm afraid the story of Officer Lyons just got lost in that dead area.”
This is not all that unusual, said Carolie Heyliger of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
A research assistant for the memorial, Ms. Heyliger said she often researches requests by family members or departments to add to the monument the name of an officer killed years before.
Of the 377 names being engraved on the wall this year, she said, only 148 were killed while on the job in 2002.
People do not always know about an officer who was killed in the past, she said. “Sometimes the name is visible in the community, perhaps on a street sign, but often the public won't know why that person is important,” she said.
The news that Officer Lyons was Adrian's first casualty went unknown for more than a century. The department suffered another loss when Officer Bobby Williams was slain while on duty in 1975.
A plaque with the Officer Williams' likeness is hanging in the department's front office and a scholarship has been established in his name.
The local Fraternal Order of Police is hoping to do the same for Officer Lyons. Members of the FOP, Bobby L. Williams, Lodge 117, are working to create a plaque for the station and are hoping to organize a charity softball game against the Detroit Red Wings to raise money for a scholarship fund.
“The future plans are to establish another scholarship. Currently we give four scholarships to graduating seniors, kids who are looking to go into law enforcement,” said Adrian Officer Laurence Van Alstine, III, FOP treasurer.
“And certainly there will be something that will hang alongside Bobby in the station.”
Lieutenant Ray said he plans to represent his department at the Peace Officer Memorial ceremony in May, to watch as Officer Lyons' name is unveiled. He said he is pleased to have been a part of making it happen.
But he is not done.
While working to have Officer Lyons' name honored, he discovered another Lenawee County officer who has not yet been added on the national monument.
“There is a constable from Clayton, Richard Teske, who was killed in 1964 in an auto accident while on chase,” the lieutenant said, adding that the officer was on the local monument but his name does not appear on the national. “I just got started.''
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.