Longtime Lynbrook Police Sgt. Ronald Fleury was holding groceries as he got out of his car in the driveway of his Lindenhurst home in December 2016, and in an instant his life was irrevocably changed.
After stepping out of the car, Fleury fell to the pavement, where he remained, face down, for 20 minutes. When he finally managed to pull himself up, his left arm was tingling, and he couldn’t feel his left leg. After several doctors’ appointments and tests, he was told last February that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a progressive disease that causes sufferers to eventually lose all muscle control. There is no cure.
To help boost Fleury’s spirits and defray some of the costs related to his illness, the Lynbrook Police Benevolent Association hosted a fundraiser for the now 54-year-old at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall on Jan. 31. About 300 people attended.
“I just want to make sure I thank everybody that showed up and everybody that pitched in for all their work,” Fleury said. “They’re all truly appreciated.”
ALS is a rare disease, afflicting only 4 in 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Most ALS patients are diagnosed between ages 40 and 70, with the average age of onset being 55.
Fleury joined the LPD in 1994. Known for his computer skills, he was promoted to sergeant and moved to the Inspector’s Office in 2005. He specialized in data analysis and acquired equipment to conduct training exercises with the department’s officers. He eventually became second in command to Chief Joseph Neve, and was five years into the role when he was diagnosed.
“He’s a great guy,” Neve said. “He’s sorely missed by me and other members of the Police Department.”
Last April, Fleury went public with his diagnosis at a PBA meeting. He cried as he told his colleagues that he was unsure how long it would take the disease to spread and that he would eventually lose all control over his body. He added that he would spend as much quality time as he could with his wife, Donna, and their three sons, Christopher, 18, Nicholas, 16, and Raymond, 12. Ron and Donna will mark 29 years of marriage in April.
“It was crushing,” said Sgt. Brian Paladino, the Lynbrook PBA vice president and one of the event organizers. “. . . For most of our guys, Ron was the first face in Lynbrook that they got to know. It really shook them that this person who was going to be chief next, who was a leader in our department, was now asking for our help.”
Last August, Fleury lost the use of his legs and had to buy a $115,000 wheelchair. By October, his hands began to curl as they stiffened. He also faced the expense of making his home wheelchair-accessible. With his bills piling up and his health deteriorating, Paladino said, the PBA members thought that a fundraiser could help lift his spirits. The event also helped provide some needed relief for his family.
“When we first found out the diagnosis, of course we were devastated, and we felt like it was a punch in the stomach,” Donna Fleury said. “At the fundraiser, it was just overwhelming and amazing to see people — some of them that we don’t even know — come out to support us. It’s truly amazing.”
Paladino said that Fleury was nervous when he arrived at the event, but had a positive outlook. Reflecting on Fleury as a police officer, Paladino said that his colleague revolutionized the department and was a courageous leader and decision-maker. He added that despite his illness, Fleury continues to display those traits.
“He’s using those tactics more or less to fight this disease,” Paladino said. “He’s been very courageous. He’s very upbeat. He never complains. Basically, he’s using all the tenets that made him a great police officer. He’s just accepting the fact that he has a disease, and he’s doing his best to navigate his life.”
Many people pitched in to ensure the fundraiser’s success. VFW members Pat Cardone and Pat Nealon helped plan it. Paladino, his wife, Jane, and their good friends Joanne Medjori and John Reichert, a retired LPD officer, helped decorate the room. Thirty LPD officers volunteered their time to make sure the event ran smoothly, and Detective Billy Straub rented a handicapped-accessible van to drive Fleury to and from it.
Retired LPD Inspector Alan Cochran, Deacon Kevin McCormack of Our Lady of Peace Church and PBA President Joe Cipolla delivered heartfelt speeches in Fleury’s honor. In his remarks, Cochran noted that the Lynbrook community became Fleury’s adopted family.
More than 70 gift baskets donated by local groups and businesses, including the Lynbrook Roller Hockey Club, Our Lady of Peace Fathers Club and several restaurants, were raffled off. The baskets were prepared by Lynbrook Village Trustee Ann Marie Reardon, Jenny Atkinson of the Lynbrook Community Chest and Jennifer Derrig, who owns the LYN Gift Shop.
LPD Officer Dan Cobucci used his equipment to DJ for free, and there were performances by the Nassau County Police Department Pipes & Drums and a local band called Leaman Place. Local restaurants Craft Kitchen and Tap House, Pearsall’s Station, P-12 Da Gigi Trattoria, River Mill Tavern and Tables, and Gino’s Pizza donated food for the buffet. Paladino said that the PBA was grateful to everyone who helped.
Fleury also expressed his gratitude, and said he was focused now on taking care of his family.
“At this point in the disease, it’s less about me and more about my wife and kids,” he said, fighting back tears. “I just want to make sure that I do everything I can to make sure they’re taken care of.”