PERTH AMBOY, N.J. – You know it’s a special day when a rookie cop receives the same badge as the officer who saved his life nearly 30 years before. That occurred Wednesday in New Jersey.
After Leonel Tejera was sworn in as Perth Amboy’s newest police officer he had a special hug for retired Perth Amboy Police Officer Kenneth Puccio, whose badge No. 111 was pinned on Tejera’s uniform. If not for Puccio’s heroic actions almost 30 years ago, Tejera might not have achieved his goal of becoming a city police officer. And through the decades, the two have maintained a bond with Puccio always there to encourage Tejera, reported mycentraljersey.com.
“Every challenge that I faced he was there for me,” said Tejera, 31. “Throughout my whole life he has been there for me, giving me wisdom and encouragement. He never gave up on me. I’m just glad I can join my brothers and sisters in blue.”
He said wearing Puccio’s badge and hat number means, “I have big shoes to fill and I have to honor it. It means a lot to me.”
And if it means saving the lives of others, Tejera, who knows CPR, said he will do it willingly.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Puccio, a Special II officer and former detective, adding he knows Tejera will be a fine police officer because he never gives up.
“I hope you move forward and touch somebody’s life like I’ve touched yours,” Puccio said.
“Days like today are always great days for the city of Perth Amboy because anytime we can increase our public safety and add to our police family it’s a great day for all of us,” said Perth Amboy acting Police Chief Roman McKeon.
Mayor Wilda Diaz said the police department reflects a new generation of leaders, determined young adults dedicated to public service who take pride in the community.
Puccio saved Tejera’s life on May 4, 1989 by performing CPR when he was a toddler and had stopped breathing.
“I remember like it happened last night. It’s fresh in my mind,” said Puccio, adding he was in the right place at the right time. “It’s the highlight of my career. I’m humbled by this, having a young man 30 years later become a police officer because you saved his life. I’m at a loss for words.”
In 1989, Puccio was a 5 1/2-year veteran of the Perth Amboy Police Department. He was on patrol in the area of Amboy Avenue at about 10:30 p.m. one evening when he saw a car coming toward him with the driver honking and waving her arms.
The woman had flagged him down screaming that her baby wasn’t breathing, according to a story in the News Tribune, a precursor to the Home News Tribune.
“She was very upset, screaming, yelling,” Puccio said.
Puccio took the baby from the mother and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the baby, giving him three or four puffs of air before he coughed and began breathing on his own, according to the news report.
Puccio said he never put the baby down, monitoring him and had the mother drive the police car to hospital, located about six blocks away, where he was rushed into the emergency room. Puccio said he never got a chance to call in the report on his police radio.
Tejera’s mother, Carmen Morales, sent Puccio a note thanking him for his heroic actions.
“As a mom I will never forget you and neither will Leonel,” she wrote on a card.
Puccio also received a citation from the city for his life-saving efforts.
Another fascinating twist in the story occurred when Tejera began elementary school.
When Puccio’s son Ken Jr. was in kindergarten, he had a friend named Leonel, that he later learned was the child he saved. Tejera, who attended Perth Amboy Catholic and vocational schools where he played baseball, basketball and martial arts, also was one of Puccio’s DARE students and also participated in the Junior Police Academy.
Tejera said he recognized Puccio’s name when he started the DARE Program and told the students he saved Tejera’s life. Tejera’s mother confirmed it was true.
So their relationship blossomed as Puccio remained an authority figure in Tejera’s early years.
“As he got older he wanted to become a police officer in Perth Amboy,” Puccio said.
Tejera received his diploma in electrical apprentice certification from Middlesex County Vocational and Technical High School in Perth Amboy in 2006 and attended Middlesex County College where he received his electrical blue print reading certification in 2008 and his associate’s degree in criminal justice in 2009.
Moreover, Tejera has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from New Jersey City University and completed his police training commission certificate, basic court for corrections officer juvenile justice commission from the training academy in Sea Girt in 2017. He completed his police training at the Cape May County Police Academy earlier this month.
Puccio, whose daughters are police officers in Sayreville and Montclair, attended Tejera’s graduation. Tejera’s brother works as a Franklin police officer, Puccio said.
“I’m proud of him. He was determined to be a police officer here. He’s been trying ever since he was old enough to take the test. Not everyone can live their dream,” said Puccio, the president of the Perth Amboy Board of Education who retired from the Perth Amboy Police Department in Sept. 2013 and currently works providing court security.