By David Brand
Seventeen years ago, court officers working out of the Manhattan criminal courts complex and the Beaver Street training academy heard that two planes had collided with the World Trade Center towers and sprang into action.
More than twenty officers ran into the building to rescue victims of the attack on Sept. 11, 2011. Three didn’t make it out.
Capt. William Harry Thompson, Sgt. Mitchel Wallace and Sgt. Thomas Jurgens died on 9/11 and other first responders, including Court Officer Lt. Theodore “Teddy” Leoutsakos, died from injuries and illnesses related to their experience at Ground Zero. Their memory lives on through service and an annual ceremony.
For the past 16 years, court officers have held a special breakfast and memorial mass at St. Andrew’s Church to honor Thompson, Wallace and Jurgens along with the thousands of others who died on 9/11. They will be unable to hold that specific event because of construction at the church.
Nevertheless, the Ceremonial Unit and Pipes and Drum corps will still lead an annual procession down Centre Street to the New York State Supreme Court building at 111 Centre Street.
There, officers will lay wreaths and observe a moment of silence in the lobby of the courthouse, said Chief Joseph Baccellieri, Jr., the Commanding Officer/Chief of Training at the New York State Court Officers Academy.
Baccellieri was one of the first court officers to arrive at the World Trade Center. He and two colleagues entered the North Tower and climbed the stairs, pausing to assist people.
Baccellieri said he and the officers reached the 51st floor of the building when they felt the building shake. The South Tower, where Thompson was working to rescue people, had just collapsed.
Workers at Ground Zero eventually recovered Thompson’s jewelry, including a special anchor pendant, which they delivered to his family.
“Thompson has two sons, each of them had an anchor, so recovering it had extra special meaning,” Baccellieri said.
In 2015, Leoutsakos, a court officer lieutenant died from pancreatic cancer related to his experience as a Ground Zero first responder.
Later that year, the city renamed the corner of 29th Street and 21st Avenue in Astoria “Theodore Leoutsakos Way” in a special ceremony attended by Leoutsakos’ family and local lawmakers Michael Gianaris and Costa Constantinides.
The street sign is located near the home of Leoutsakos, who served as a court officer for 24 years.
“We are so honored to have the street my family has lived on for 47 years co-named in our father’s honor. Our father was a man who believed in serving his community and country,” Leoutsakos’ daughters Stacey, Cynthia and Stephanie said in a statement. “Today is a celebration of my father and a proud day for our entire family.”