ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - Recent “line of duty” deaths among police officers have brought back painful memories for a North County man. Jim Vassalo lost his wife in the line of duty in August of 2015. He’s channeled his grief into a remarkable mission to honor her. Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Sergeant, Peggy Vassallo, 53, died the way she lived: helping someone.
Her death has been tough on Jim, her high school sweetheart and husband of 29 years. Rather than try to forget, he’s focused making sure the rest of us never do. He’s lowered the American flag outside his home to half again after three more officers died in the line of duty this past week: one in Chester, IL, and two in Des Moines, IA.
He’s done quite a bit more to honor the one fallen officer who matters most to him: his beloved, Peggy. She died nearly 15 months ago. She was in a minor car accident, police said. When she got out to check on the other driver, a speeding car hit her. She died at a hospital a few hours later.
“It happened early in the morning on the way to work. Lucky I got to say that I loved her before she went to bed the night before … I was sleeping when they (police) banged on the door,” Jim said.
A few months later he bought a bought a trailer. He custom designed it, with photos of Peggy and tributes to fallen police officers adorning the front, rear, and both sides. He hauled his son’s bicycle in the trailer to the Police Unity Tour in May. It’s a 300 mile bike ride for the fallen -- from New Jersey o the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Peggy pedaled the tour in 2015, a few months before her death.
His granddaughters, one of whom wore Peggy’s police hat at the funeral were an inspiration for Jim. This year, he pulled towed trailer on the route as he and Peggy’s son pedaled it.
“The Ride for Those Who Died,” says a quote on his trailer.
They let everyone else know what Peggy’s granddaughters already did: she gave until there was no more to give; that kind of example never dies.
“That’s why I wanted to show everybody that I loved her so much and honored her…she wanted to make sure everybody else was ‘OK’ before her. She put everybody else first,” Jim said.
He credits the BackStoppers organization for helping him out financially in the wake Peggy’s death; even moreso for helping him out emotionally in dealing with his grief.
“From day one BackStoppers was there for me to ensure I was going to be ok. It’s a great organization. I met a whole bunch of friends through that…I’m part of a big family that will never quit,” he said.
He’s featured the Backstoppers logo on the trailer to encourage support and donations.
The trailer will make one more Police Unity Tour, this May. Then he’s going to donate it to the new National Law Enforcement Museum.
You can donate to the Backstoppers at www.backstoppers.org.