WARREN - Lt. Peter Lucic credits the deputy sheriff he met when he was 15 years old with steering him toward his own career in law enforcement.
"It was a hard time in my life. But I knew as long as he was there, I was safe. The interaction I had with that deputy sheriff had a lot to do with why I became an officer,'' Lucic said. ''That's how much he influenced me. I've always hoped to be able to impact people the same way, as positively as he impacted me."
Lucic, 53, of Youngstown, retired last week after 33 years with the Trumbull County Sheriff's Office. He is moving on to a new job as general manager for G4s Secure Solutions based in Independence.
"It's hard leaving after doing something for so long, after it's been such a part of your life. I never thought I would ever work in the private sector, but this opportunity came up. It's time to move on." he said. "I'll miss everyone, my friends here. There's a camaraderie. It's not something you can replace.''
Lucic's eyes filled with tears recently while recounting his experiences with the sheriff's office and again on his last day, Feb. 28, when his boss, Sheriff Tom Altiere, presented him with a plaque during an informal gathering in the courtroom of Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan.
Deputy Rich McGrath also presented the retiring law enforcement officer with a wooden carving of the official logo of the FOP Lodge 137 union emblem. Lucic had served as president, and McGrath is taking over.
Tribune Chronicle / Virginia Shank
Retiring Trumbull County deputy sheriff Lt. Peter Lucic discusses his 33-year career with the department. Lucic, 53, retired last week to take a job with a security firm.
Tribune Chronicle file photo
Lucic also owns the regional fundraising promotion International Wrestling Association. He wrestles under the ring name ‘‘the Ultimate Male’’ Preston Steele.
The sheriff recalled days when he worked alongside Lucic, patrolling areas of Weathersfield and when they worked late night ''side jobs'' together.
Besides thanking his wife, who was in the courtroom with dozens of courthouse employees, Lucic said he was truly grateful to have the Trumbull County Sheriff's Office as a place to practice the skills he developed over the years.
''With all the different assignments I had, it gave me a chance to develop and learn. It gave me a chance to be promoted. It was my life,'' he said.
It was Prosecutor Dennis Watkins who also remembers Lucic's detective work on a high-profile murder case from 1999.
''It was Pete who actually broke the case and gained a confession from George Foster as he was driving him back to the jail for questioning by detectives. Pete carried on the conversation and got those admissions that were developed by other detectives and we used that to build our case,'' Watkins said, describing Foster who was eventually convicted of raping and murdering young Bridget Wetzl May 15, 1999.
Foster was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences after a case that Watkins tried and Lucic testified in.
"You see more in a year in a job like this than some people see in a lifetime, if they ever see it at all," Lucic said. "The hardest part is seeing people, seeing children hurt."
Lucic, a Girard native, started his career with TCSO in 1981. Before that, he worked in Girard as a bailiff and dispatcher. He went to the police academy and was hired by Brookfield police.
It was after he helped solve a homicide in Brookfield that he was recruited by the county sheriff's office. Along with the Wetzl case, he investigated several homicides, including the 1982 murder of a Niles police detective.
Lucic said he has been shot at six times. During his time with the sheriff's office, he was a commander of the civil and road division and detective, among other responsibilities. He was also an assistant commander of the department's SWAT and dive teams.
"You have to be real with people. You have to be honest and treat everyone like a person. I really think that most people respect that more than if you try to strong arm them. You have a job to do and you have to do it. You have to be careful and follow rules and procedure. But you also have look at everything case by case, person by person. A kind word goes a long way," he said.
He continues teaching at Kent State University and has a master's degree in criminal justice.
He plans to continue pursuing his career in professional wrestling. Lucic, aka wrestler ''The Ultimate Male'' Preston Steele, owns International Wrestling Association. He has dedicated much of his wrestling time to raising funds for numerous groups, organizations and individuals.
He has several projects he's working on and is also appearing in the soon-to-be released movie "Sickness."
Deputy Roger Gregory commended Lucic for the work he's done to help others.
"He is one of the most giving people I have ever know. We worked together for 25 years and I cannot even name all of the good things he's done for people and he never expects anything in return," Gregory said.