By Joan Hadac
Editor and Publisher
Southwest Chicago Post
Fifteen years after her dad died, Katarina Perez still tears up when she thinks about happy memories that would never take place.
Flanked by family, friends and a phalanx of supportive police officers, Perez was a key speaker Monday evening at an outdoor roll call of the Chicago Police Department. The event, which honored the late Officer Benjamin Perez, was held on the street at 53rd and Nashville, near the Perez family home.
Officer Perez was a young dad 15 years ago. He had been on the police force for four years.
Assigned to the Odgen (10th) District, he was killed in the line of duty on Sept. 18, 2002. He and his partner, Officer Ron Zuniga, received information about a narcotics transaction occurring near the Burlington Northern-Sante Fe railroad tracks, just north of Cermak and Spaulding.
The officers climbed over an embankment and were conducting surveillance from a railroad trestle. As they watched for illegal activity, a Metra commuter train traveling at a high rate of speed was headed in their direction.
Although both officers were able to get off the tracks, Officer Perez was pulled underneath the wheels by the forceful winds the train created.
He left behind his wife, Michele; as well as Katarina, a 9-
|Officer Benjamin Perez|
“Every year, September rolls around—and with it come sorrow and pain…but my love and memory of my dad, Benjamin Perez, has never weakened,” Katarina Perez told the assembly of police, military veterans and others. “And neither has yours, the people standing here with me.”
She added that she and her family are amazed by the unflagging support they receive. “You might not think it makes a difference, but it makes a world of difference. It fills us with pride to know that he is still thought about and will never be forgotten.”
Known as a modest, hard-working, effective policeman, Perez earned 16 CPD commendations in his four years on duty—yet no one in his family, not even his wife, knew of them until after his death. His family found them stashed in a drawer as they went through his personal effects.
Her voice faltering as she reflected on what was not to be, she added, “I will say it time and time again…but I wish Ben and Becky could have had more memories than just the few pictures we have of my dad. I suppose that makes them more valuable.”
Serving as master of ceremonies at the roll call was retired CPD Supt. Phil Cline, a former Garfield Ridge resident and current Chicago Police Memorial Foundation executive director.
“Ben died doing a job he loved, serving a country he loved even more,” Cline said. “He was the best of his generation. Ben was the ‘real police’…a small part of every one of us died when we lost Ben. Not just members of the police department, but every Chicagoan. When you look at Ben’s life, you discover a man who devoted himself completely to others and to his family. We did not just lose an exceptional police officer, we lost a remarkable person.”