It was Eddie Lugo’s daughter who shifted his wheelchair so he could face the five rows of uniformed police officers who stood outside the rehabilitation center as he was discharged on Friday morning.
“This job is never just a job,” said Lugo. “It’s a family. You guys really showed it when I got hurt.”
Lugo had spent three decades on the Paterson police force — a career that included stints as a patrol officer, on the emergency response team and in the detective bureau investigating major crimes — before he retired as a sergeant in 2019. When Lugo became paralyzed in a bicycling accident in July, his brothers in blue rallied around him in ways that went far beyond mere words of encouragement and sympathy.
On Friday, dozens of officers gathered for a “clap out” at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange where Lugo had completed a month of treatment.
“He normally doesn’t like a lot of attention, but I believe in this case it was needed,” said Lugo’s wife, Marilyn.
After emerging from the rehab, Lugo seemed moved by the crowd awaiting him. His daughter removed his Paterson police facemask and he spoke of his love for the law enforcement profession.
“You guys are working for the greater good,” he said. “You guys do what you do because it’s the right thing to do. Never, ever forget that.”
Lugo also addressed the Kessler staff members who participated in the clap out, thanking them for their help.
“You guys brought me from a real dark place to the point where I was smiling every day,” he said.
Lugo’s bicycling accident happened near the former Paterson Catholic building, not far from his home. Police union leaders said his initial prognosis was that he would not regain use of his legs or arms. But, they said, he already has surpassed some expectations with movement of his fingers.
“He’s a real fighter,” said Mason Maher, president of the Superior Officers Association.
A group of five officers spent hundreds of man-hours remodeling Lugo’s Paterson home to accommodate his wheelchair. Alex Cruz, president of Paterson PBA Local 1, was among the officers who spent weeks reconfiguring Lugo’s home in anticipation of his return. They completely redid his bathroom so he can take showers, altered his bedroom for maneuverability and widened doorways for his wheelchair.
Lugo made the trip home from West Orange to Paterson, in one of the city’s wheelchair-accessible senior citizen mini-buses, with an escort of police vehicles including members of the traffic division on motorcycles.
“He would have done the same thing for one of us,” said Officer Giuseppe Ciarla,.