Hundreds of people gathered in Port Jefferson Station Tuesday to mourn the loss of Suffolk County Police Department Lt. Robert Van Zeyl, the county’s first active duty officer to die from COVID-19.
Van Zeyl lost his life Jan. 20 after testing positive for the virus Jan. 3. He was hospitalized a week later.
Members from the law enforcement community joined Van Zeyl’s family to say goodbye with a full military-style precession featuring police motorcycles, pipes and drums, and an American flag arched by two fire trucks.
Uniformed officers who came out from as far as Manhattan saluted the decorated casket as it drove up to St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church on Terryville Road.
“It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of an exceptional member of our law enforcement family, Lieutenant Robert Van Zeyl,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement. “Lieutenant Van Zeyl’s more-than three decades of exemplary service are a testament to his commitment to public service, and even in the midst of a global pandemic, he was on the frontlines every day helping residents in need. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Van Zeyl family during this difficult time.”
Van Zeyl joined the Suffolk County Police Department in February 1985 and served in the 5th Precinct in Patchogue upon graduation from the academy. In 1994, he was promoted to sergeant and then lieutenant in 2003.
He served as the commanding officer of the Applicant Investigation Section and the Administrative Services Bureau before transferring to the 2nd Precinct in the Town of Huntington in 2015 where he worked until his death.
“Bob was a wonderful person, a dedicated member of our department, and a pleasure to know both personally and professionally,” Inspector William Scrima, 2nd Precinct commanding officer, said in a statement. “He was a person who genuinely enjoyed his work and was liked by people of all ranks who knew him and worked with him. He will be truly missed by this department and by the 2nd Precinct in particular.”
During his more than three-decade career, Van Zeyl received more than a dozen recognitions for his contributions to the police department including two Cop of the Month honors and the Excellent Police Duty Award for amassing 12 or more self-initiated DWI arrests in a single year.
The Selden resident leaves behind two children, Hailey and Tyler, and his ex-wife Christine Zubrinic.
“Lieutenant Van Zeyl was really just a fighter the whole way,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said after the ceremony. “He was out in the frontlines battling for his communities, his whole career was dedicated to service and today we say goodbye to him. I know that his family will always be with us. For his beautiful daughter Hailey and son Tyler, this has such a difficult time for them, and we just really want them to know that we’re here for them.”
“They will always remember their dad, who was really a hero, and will always be remembered by this department,” the commissioner said.
Hart added that during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, 87 SCPD officers tested positive for the virus. Van Zeyl’s death is the first.
He was 60 years old.