NAUGATUCK — Detective Ronald Blanchard has no problem remembering March 17, 1991, the day a passing driver hit and killed fellow borough police officer Nancy Ellen Nichols while she was assisting in a traffic stop.
“It was the most awful day of my life, one of them,” Blanchard said. “A day I’ll never forget.”
The police department held a memorial service Thursday at its 211 Spring St. headquarters to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Nichols’s death. Nichols was the first female officer in the department and the first female officer in the state to die in the line of duty. In the department’s 118-year history, she is the only officer ever killed on duty, Chief Christopher Edson said.
Three generations of Nichols’s family were police officers before her.
“Her passing ended a legacy,” Edson said.
Nichols was 34 when she died. Before the accident, she said her final farewell to her father after stopping at his borough house, his wife, Dolores Ford, said.
“I thought it was so appropriate that she came in and said goodbye, and they said goodbye to each other for the last time,” said Ford, 85, of Beacon Falls.
Nichols was on patrol on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day, which 20 years ago was a Sunday, when she pulled over on Route 68 to see if a fellow officer needed help with a traffic stop. As she walked down the side of the road, a Buick Somerset Regal hit her and threw her about 50 feet. She was rushed to Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, where she died of internal injuries.
Police charged the driver, 17-year-old Tiffany Rotatori, with negligent homicide with a motor vehicle. They concluded she had lost control of the car, but neither speed nor alcohol played a part in the accident.
The borough police department subsequently retired Nichols’s badge number, PL15, in her honor.
Nichols’s older sister, Mary Jokubaitis, 60, of Middlebury, said she was touched that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proclaimed Thursday as Nancy Nichols Day in the state.
“This is quite an honor,” Jokubaitis said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Nichols, a single mother, was survived by a 12-year-old son, Todd.