On the 33rd anniversary of a tragic crash of a Maryland State Police helicopter, the widower of a trooper killed and the police chaplain who responded to the accident visited the state police aviation unit in Baltimore.
Pastor Mike Adams, who still serves as the unit’s chaplain, and Bob Simpson, a former trooper whose colleague and wife Carey Poetzman died in the crash, met with Maryland State Police aviation staff.
Adams and Simpson have become close friends since the crash.
Adams leads the Christ Lutheran Church in Baltimore County and is one of the longest-serving police chaplains in the region. He began his unpaid work with Maryland State Police just months before the Jan. 20, 1986, tragedy, in which one of the agency’s helicopters crashed into a West Baltimore park. Troopers Poetzman and Gregory May died.
“I knew I needed to be there to support (the troopers and families) and lead them and guide them,” Adams said. “I knew not only were their families going to be in crisis, but the whole aviation division.
“I wasn’t going to protect them from the pain they’re going to feel. I let them feel that and reassure them it’s OK. It’s natural. You’re going to feel that way.”
Simpson, Poetzman’s husband and colleague, said Adams’ counseling helped convince him and others to eventually return to their work, despite the trauma of losing two colleagues in a crash.
“He knew how bad I was feeling,” Simpson said. “He sat me down in a chair and started talking to me. I was still hurting but I knew I was glad this man was sitting here. (I knew) I needed this.”
Adams was part of a first generation of police chaplains at many local police departments. All of those surveyed by News4 said their chaplain corps are unpaid volunteers who respond to emergency calls. Maryland State Police officials said Adams' work after the 1986 crash underscored the importance of finding and growing police chaplaincy in the region.
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A News4 survey of four major Washington, D.C.-area police departments showed all have increased their number of chaplains since starting their chaplaincy programs. The Metropolitan Police Department now has five chaplains serving D.C. Virginia State Police, Fairfax County police and Anne Arundel County police all have boosted the size of their chaplaincy corps. Anne Arundel County has added five additional chaplains since 2009.
Maryland State Police aviation commander Maj. Mike Tagliaferri said chaplains serve a vital function inside police departments.
“We are fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters,” he said. “We have families to go home to.”
Colleagues said Adams, who has begun his 34th year as a police chaplain, has helped define the role from another generation of chaplains, of all denominations.
Adams said he has learned how to connect with police employees, who are often reluctant to display emotions or weakness.
“We train our state police and other police officers and emergency (responders) to stay cool and calm, but there is a time to let yourself go,” he said. “The tears have to come. The anger has to come.”
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.