STAMFORD CT. Feb 6 2008 – A 36-year-old police officer and mother of two died overnight Saturday, most likely of complications from surgical procedures to mend injuries suffered on the job in 2003, police officials said.Marcia Stella, who joined the department in 1996, apparently died in her sleep Saturday night or Sunday morning, according to police officials and the president of the police union.
She is survived by her husband, Marc, an 8-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, said Lt. Sean Cooney, a department spokesman.Stella missed most of the last four years of work after suffering a severe neck injury when she broke up a fight between two teenage girls at Cloonan Middle School in 2003, according to police officials and city workers compensation records.She returned to work several times, only to suffer setbacks, Police Chief Brent Larrabee said.”Things like this happen, and it’s just terrible,” Larrabee said. “You just don’t understand it.”
State medical examiners said yesterday they are investigating the cause of Stella’s death.
Stella had worked in the youth bureau as a school resource officer, Larrabee said. She most recently worked in the city police academy in 2006 and some of last year, Larrabee said.
She was on injury leave for the last nine or 10 months, he said.”The last time I talked to her, she was in a great deal of pain and was ready to try more surgery,” Larrabee said.
City officials would not release specifics about her condition, citing medical privacy laws. Her family could not be reached for comment yesterday; messages were left at Stella’s listed phone number.Stella, whose maiden name was Collins, underwent several surgeries to repair damage to her neck, shoulder and spinal cord after breaking up the fight, city officials said.She spent almost all of 2005 on injury leave, according to worker compensation records.
The city typically pays the full salary plus medical benefits to any officer injured in the line of duty. Records show the city paid Stella more than $100,000 in salary and medical expenses in the year after her injury.Updated workers’ compensation records were not made available yesterday.But the city contested some payments, said Stewart Casper, an attorney who represented Stella in worker compensation hearings. Casper would not discuss the nature of Stella’s injuries but criticized the city’s handling of the case.”It could have been handled much more humanely,” Casper said. “But (Stella) hung in there.”City Risk Manager Ann Marie Mones and Human Resources Director Dennis Murphy did not return calls yesterday.Stella brought enthusiasm to the job and especially liked her work as a school resource officer at Cloonan, said Sgt. Joseph Kennedy, president of the police union.”She really liked working with kids,” Kennedy said. “She was greatly appreciated by her bosses and the kids she worked with.”The union considers Stella to have died from the result of injuries suffered on the job, Kennedy said.Stella initially filed suit against the teens who started the fight, Casper said. She dropped the suit when it became clear the teens and their families did not have the insurance necessary to pay Stella’s medical costs, he said.
A wake will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Nicholas F. Cognetta Funeral Home & Crematory, 104 Myrtle Ave., Kennedy said. A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Leo Church, 24 Roxbury Road, Stamford.