ROXBURY, NJ – Sue Lachenauer is pretty sure it was Mount Arlington Police Sgt. James Distasio who teased her grandson outside a liquor store one day last summer.
The Roxbury resident said she didn’t think about it until photos of Distasio appeared in the news two months ago, identifying the sergeant as the officer seriously injured Dec. 11 when he was struck by a car.
Lachenauer said she often recalled the encounter in the liquor store parking lot while she was crocheting a “prayer blanket” for Distasio. The 32-square-foot blanket – black with a blue stripe - will be given to the hospitalized officer as soon as Lachenauer finds a way to get Distasio’s badge number and maybe a shield added, she said.
“Every time my head gets a second, I keep thinking about this poor guy,” said Lachenauer. She said the man’s friendly demeanor in The Liquor Factory parking lot made a mark.
A Wink and a Smile
The Landing resident was with her 11-year-old grandson and her daughter, Nikki, who was carrying a case of beer to their car. The officer was walking their way.
“My grandson was just looking at him,” Lachenauer said. Instead of ignoring the kid, the man in the uniform chose engagement.
“He says to my grandson, ‘Hey. That’s not your case of beer is it? You’re not old enough to drink.’”
There was a woman sitting in a nearby car, Lachenauer recalled: “The woman says to him, ‘Jimmy, will you stop it? You’re going to make him scared of cops.’ I can still hear that lady saying, ‘Jimmy, knock it off.’”
Clusters of Prayers
Authorities aren’t saying much about Distasio’s condition. Many around town say they heard he was placed in an induced coma, possibly as a means of helping him recover. But that’s just unconfirmed speculation, and to people like Lachenauer all that really matters is that Distasio survives the tragedy.
Lachenauer said she prays often for the sergeant. In fact, she did so constantly during the blanket's creation.
Crafted in a puff, or bobble, stitch of “real soft” blanket yarn, the blanket will be accompanied by a letter. It will explain to Distasio that Lachenauer chose the bobble stitch on purpose.
“If you look at it, it’s made of clusters made up of many stitches,” she said. “Each cluster represents a family that is praying for him. And the stitches that make up each cluster represent each individual prayer. I chose that because … when he can touch his blanket, he can feel all the prayers the community gave to him.”
Works of Love
Lachenauer’s daughter Nikki – the one whose case of beer prompted Distasio’s joke – considers her mother a “Roxbury angel.”
She said the woman has been making blankets for Christmas babies for the past two years and giving them to area hospitals.
“She crocheted blankets in red and green because she is also a Christmas Day baby,” Nikki Lachenauer explained. “She heard of Officer Jimmy D from Mount Arlington and immediately got to crocheting him a blanket. Our family bought T-shirts to fund his family/medical bills, but that wasn’t enough. She’s going for the gold here.”