Beloved Tierney continues to inspire Edison police as state’s No. 2 fundraising department prepares for annual Law Enforcement Torch Run

Jeff Tierney’s presence during last year’s Law Enforcement Torch Run profoundly impacted Edison police officers participating in the annual event.

“Seeing him out there by far was the biggest moment of our entire day,” said Edison Police Captain and PBA member Jason Gerba, noting he and his colleagues did not expect to find Tierney, who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time, along the route.

“It gave us all a great lift, from guys who were doing the run for the first time to guys who have been doing the run for 25-plus years. It was just a moment I will never forget.”

A highly respected and dedicated police officer who served the township for more than two decades and had recently been promoted to Detective Sergeant, Tierney lost a courageous battle with cancer six months after last year’s torch run. He was 52 years old.

The Edison Police Department is dedicating its leg of this year’s 39th annual Law Enforcement Torch Run on June 10 to Tierney, a devoted family man who loved spending time with his wife, Jenn, and their children, Kyle and Lyla.

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Tierney’s family is expected to attend a ceremony on June 10 in front of the Edison Municipal Building, where runners from the township’s police department will convene as they are introduced amid fanfare including a red carpet, music, and a smoke machine.

The celebratory mood will undoubtedly have a somber undertone as fellow officers and dignitaries, including State Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., Assemblymembers Rob Karabinchak and Sterley Stanley, Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan, and Edison Mayor Sam Joshi, reflect upon the loss of a beloved lifelong township resident.

“Jeff was a prior participant of the run, and despite not feeling his best, he walked over and brought his son Kyle with him,” Gerba said of Tierney trekking last year from his township residence to the intersection of Route 27, where Tierney waited to greet more than 30 peers along the Torch Run route.

“I don’t think a single guy or girl was able to run by Jeff without stopping and giving him a hug. Jeff later texted me saying he didn’t know how much he needed that. The feeling was absolutely mutual. Despite the tragedy of losing Jeff, we were all so grateful just to interact with him, even if it was only for a moment.”

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More than 3,000 officers from approximately 400 police departments statewide will join Edison’s contingent for this year’s 26-leg marathon, which will span 750 miles across 300-plus towns to raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics New Jersey.

Special Olympics New Jersey provides free year-round sports training and athletic competition in 24 Olympic-style sports for thousands of children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Through the joy and power of sports, athletes are afforded opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and build friendships with other Special Olympians.

Since its inception in 1984, the Law Enforcement Torch Run has raised millions of dollars for Special Olympics New Jersey.

The Edison Police Department has been among the state’s Top 10 fundraisers each of the past three years with Gerba and co-coordinator Robert Dudash Jr., Edison’s deputy chief, leading the effort.

Last year, Edison was the state’s second leading fundraiser, collecting a department-record for donations. As a result, the township’s name will be listed for a third consecutive year along with nine other departments on the back of the Torch Run T-shirt, a prestigious honor.

“We’ve been successful because we’ve involved so many more people,” said Gerba, who has been a part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run since 1999.

“I think during the pandemic, officers were looking for opportunities to get more involved outside the scope of their regular duties. I was very pleased to oblige each and every one of them. We got overwhelming participation with fundraising.”

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Gerba said fellow officers, including Sergeant Joseph Kenney, who previously served as PBA Local 75’s delegate, approached him and Dudash looking for ways to help. Kenney persuaded many officers under his command to run and encouraged Tierney, who was not often leaving his house while receiving cancer treatment, to partake in the event as a spectator.

Tierney enjoyed training for and participating in Spartan Races and Tough Mudder events. Proud to serve and protect his hometown, Tierney was loyal to his brothers and sisters in blue and considered them his second family. He looked forward to participating in the Torch Run.

“This event epitomized something he always believed in,” Gerba said. “It was the perfect event for him. Jeff was so charitable and so friendly. By everybody carrying that torch for Jeff this year, it’s going to mean a lot.”

With beloved Tierney on their mind and in their hearts, more than 30 male and female officers will represent Edison’s police department in the Torch Run. Reflecting the township’s diversity, the department’s runners will include Asian, Black, and Hispanic officers, Gerba said.

The Edison police will receive the Torch – referred to as the “Flame of Hope” – from Woodbridge officers at around 2:30 p.m. before embarking on a 6.2-mile trek along Route 27. The Edison Police Department will run alongside peers from Metuchen for a stretch and eventually pass the Torch to Highland Park officers, who will continue the journey toward The College of New Jersey.

During Edison’s leg, employees of businesses along Route 27 and members of township organizations will cheer on the runners. Supporters include Command Staff personnel from the Edison Police Department and the Edison Fire Department.

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The Torch Run typically precedes Special Olympics New Jersey’s annual Summer Games at The College of New Jersey, but the pandemic led to their cancellation in 2020 and forced the 2021 games to be conducted as standalone events at various locations across the state.

With normal activities resuming this year, Special Olympics will hold its opening ceremonies June 10 at The College of New Jersey, starting at 7:30 p.m. Several Edison officers will be in attendance to greet the athletes as they prepare for the June 11 and June 12 competition.

“I came to learn that Special Olympics New Jersey’s partnership with law enforcement goes beyond the run,” Gerba said, noting his regular attendance during the Special Olympics Games at The College of New Jersey fuels his desire to fundraise and participate.

“The first Special Olympics Games I ever attended was overwhelming. At the start, the officers lined up in two rows in a packed football stadium (at The College of New Jersey) and greeted all the athletes with a high five.

“The energy and enthusiasm by the athletes and spectators was chilling. I took note immediately of how much the athletes loved and appreciated the Law Enforcement community. The opening ceremonies then concluded with a small torch arriving at the arena and a large torch being lit and illuminating the entire area around it.”

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Gerba returned the ensuing day to distribute medals to the athletes on the podium, a tradition he and other Edison officers will continue this year.

“It gave me a chance to further interact with the participants and their families and enjoy the results of their hard work,” Gerba said. “It also gave me the opportunity to form friendships with some of the finest members in the law enforcement community. Many, if not all officers, were volunteering their time to make a great event.”

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For the second straight year, Gerba will also serve as a coordinator for an entire 59.5-mile stretch of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, starting in North Bergen at 8 a.m. and ending in Kingston. He will join Anna Kot of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and Chelsea Richards of the Edison Police Department to take photographs, hand out water and fruit, and distribute T-shirts and pins in every town. Gerba will join his peers in Edison around noon for the township’s pre-run ceremony.

During the Torch Run, officers from the township will once again make their way past the exact same spot where Tierney stood a year ago.

“He left us way too soon,” the final sentence of Tierney’s obituary begins, “but the impact he has had on this world will live on for an eternity.”

As much as Tierney’s absence during this year’s Torch Run will be felt, his omnipresent spirit will inspire.

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