Wayne C. Ebert was well liked and respected by his fellow troopers at the Reading station, and his death in the line of duty 42 years ago will forever be honored by the men and women who wear or have worn the Pennsylvania State Police uniform for making the ultimate sacrifice.
To the general public, however, it’s a different story. Few remember the name of the trooper who was struck and killed by a pickup truck on Route 183 in Bern Township while directing traffic at the Reading air show on June 7, 1978.
On Friday, state officials made sure Ebert will never be forgotten.
State Rep. Barry Jozwiak hosted a ceremony at the Reading Regional Airport to pay tribute to Ebert and unveil a pair of signs near the airport designating a 4-mile stretch of Route 183 as Trooper Wayne C. Ebert Memorial Highway.
The Bern Township Republican, whose district office is in the airport terminal, retired from the state police after a 25-year career before he was elected as Berks County sheriff. He served 12 years as sheriff before being elected to the state Legislature.
Ebert’s death is a somber reminder of what he learned early in his law-enforcement career: There is no such thing as a normal day as a police officer.
“You never know when you’re going to leave your house in the morning and you won’t come home for dinner at night,” he said.
The day of Ebert’s final roll call, thousands of motorists were streaming to the airport on a beautiful sunny day to catch a glimpse of the Blue Angels.
“His death was a horrible tragedy,” Jozwiak said. “At the time of his death, Trooper Ebert had served the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 27 years and 10 months. He was even talking about retiring.”
The designation of the highway was enabled by legislation Jozwiak introduced to the House and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf. One sign is along the southbound lane just south of West Leesport Road, and the other is placed along the northbound lane near the Berkshire Country Club just north of the city line.
State Sen. David Argall, who represents parts of Berks and Schuylkill counties, said he rescheduled three meetings in Pottsville Friday morning in order to attend the ceremony at the invitation of his colleague in the other chamber.
He said it’s “incredibly important” to remember police officers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving to protect the community.
Steer Clear law
Unfortunately, he said, too many troopers are losing their lives in a similar manner as Ebert, Argall said. That’s why lawmakers are advancing legislation to increase penalties for violations of the Steer Clear law that was meant to protect police, emergency medical workers and tow truck workers.
Many people still don’t realize that when they see emergency vehicles ahead to slow down and move over for the safety of the officers and others, Argall said.
Jozwiak remembered Ebert as a man who was very professional yet friendly, who knew everyone from the office-support personnel to the most seasoned suit-and-tie investigators.
“I remember him today as a person who always had a smile on his face, and he was well-respected by all,” he said.
David Kennedy, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, which sponsored a luncheon following the ceremony, said, “Wayne Ebert is a true hero. We have never forgotten his service to our country with the United States Navy. And we have never forgotten his nearly three decades of service to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a state trooper. Today’s actions ensure that everybody will remember the heroic life of State Trooper Wayne C. Ebert.”
Changed a teen's life
By his death, Ebert gave a troubled teen some needed direction.
Joseph Dziedzic Jr., a Reading native who has worked as an emergency room nurse for 20 years at Phoenixville Hospital, was an emergency medical technician running with the Schuylkill Valley ambulance crew during the 1978 air show when the call came in for a person struck by a vehicle near the ambulance station on Route 183.
Dziedzic, now 61 and living in Royersford, was invited by Jozwiak to speak after he reached out by email saying he would like to attend the dedication ceremony.
“I remember like it was yesterday,” he said. “It left such an image that burned itself into the fabric of my mind.”
“I was not the best teenager,” Dziedzic said. “I was a little bit broken, a little bit troubled.”
He became a medic after attending a CPR class taught by a medic with Schuylkill Valley Ambulance, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to pursue it as a career until the event of June 7, 1978.
“That day set my life goal as far as what to do with the rest of my life,” he said.
He went on to become a paramedic, working in Reading, Leesport and elsewhere before going to nursing school.
Ebert’s widow, Gloria, who along with several relatives attended the ceremony, thanked Jozwiak for working hard to have a stretch of Route 183 named in honor of her late husband.
She said it means a lot to her family.
“It is a pleasure to see you all I haven’t seen for years,” she said to the crowd that included many retired troopers as well as some of the command staff of Reading-based Troop L. “It’s just a great honor.”
All of the guests were shuttled by bus, with a Bern Township police escort, to the sign about a mile north of the Route 222 interchange. There, Ebert’s widow pulled the rope of the drop cloth covering the sign.