FRIEDENS—It took almost 54 years, but Pennsylvania state Trooper Stephen R. Gyurke, who was killed in the line of duty, now has a bridge named after him.
Gyurke was assigned to the Somerset turnpike barracks. He stopped a tractor-trailer for a traffic violation in Westmoreland County on Aug. 21, 1958, when he was struck by another tractor-trailer. He died of his injuries three days later at the age of 29. He was married to Margaret Gyurke, who was then a nurse at Somerset Hospital. They were building a new home in Somerset when he died.
"Three years ago I was riding around and I saw other bridges and highways named in honor of people, and I thought this was something that should be done," he said. "It is also for my late dad and my family."
He approached state representatives about designating a bridge to honor his uncle. The first bill died. State Sen. Richard Kasunic, D-Dunbar, guided the second bill through the process.
"It's a credit to the nephew, not to me," Kasunic said. "He worked hard to get this done. I did the legislative work, but he did the heavy lifting. The bill passed unanimously and was signed by the governor. I'm sure his father and uncle are looking down today with big smiles and saying it was a job well done. But it isn't a memorial to just Trooper Gyurke, it is a memorial to state troopers and police everywhere. They get up each day and when they leave their families to go to work, they know they may not return. They take their lives in their own hands to protect all of us. His memory won't be forgotten — let it shine, let it shine forever."
A ceremony was held Friday to unveil the sign to be placed at a bridge over Barclay Run in Somerset, near the McDonald's along North Center Avenue. The Fraternal Order of Police Frank J. Kelly Memorial Lodge 62 hosted the dedication ceremony at the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory in Friedens. On Jan. 13, 2011, Gyurke was posthumously presented the Pennsylvania State Police Cross. The award did not originate until after his death. He was not the only member of his family to die in service — his brother U.S. Army Pfc. Mike Gyurke was killed in action in France during World War II.
State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Allegheny Township, said we are fortunate in this nation that we have individuals who are willing to lay down their lives for others, whether on the beaches of Normandy or the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Ninety-three troopers have died in the line of duty.
"In Pennsylvania 4,600 troopers put their lives on the line every day," he said. "No bridge on this planet could convey our gratitude."
Maj. George Kuzilla, Pennsylvania State Police Area III commander, said it is his hope that the public is reminded daily of the dangers to police officers who patrol the roads, and when people cross the bridge in honor of Trooper Gyurke that they remember his commitment and his service to the commonwealth.
Retired Lt. Roman Pawloski, who was Gyurke's best friend, said Gyurke was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 220 pounds, but he had a smile as wide as he was tall.
"Steve, you did not swerve, you laid down your life for the citizens," he said. "May this bridge be a tribute to you and may you rest in peace."