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Twenty years later: remembering highway accident that killed two first responders

John and Paula Kalaman left flowers on their son’s headstone at David’s Cemetery in Kettering this morning on the anniversary of his death. 

While visiting the cemetery, they discovered a bouquet of flowers left by an anonymous person and a wreath left by the Centerville Police Dept.

“That makes us feel good,” said John Kalaman. “It’s heartwarming to see that he has not been forgotten.” 

Twenty-years ago, two Miami Valley first responders were killed in the line of duty responding to an accident on an ice-covered highway. 

In the early morning hours of Jan. 12, 1998, Centerville Police Officer John Kalaman, 29, and Washington Twp. Firefighter Robert O’Toole, 26, responded to a single-car accident on I-675 at Wilmington Pike along with firefighter Charles Arnold. 

While investigating the scene on the highway, the three men were struck by a car whose driver lost control while speeding on the slick roadway. 

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Officer Kalaman, a five-year police department veteran, was killed at the scene. Firefighter O’Toole, who had been with the department for four years, died at Miami Valley Hospital. Arnold, who was seriously injured, survived. 

The tragedy rocked the community. Kalaman was the first police officer Centerville had lost in the line of duty, and Washington Twp. had not lost a firefighter since 1955. 

“It’s been a tough road from time to time,” said John Kalaman, remembering his son. “But it’s important for the community to understand that the person behind the badge and riding in that police vehicle has got parents, maybe a spouse, maybe children. He has people who care about him.” 

The memories of the two men, whose careers were dedicated to caring for others, lives on today. 

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Each year, the Centerville Noon Optimists award the Robert J. O’Toole EMT/Firefighter of the Year Award to “honor those in our community who unselfishly give of themselves in service of others.” 

For two decades, Centerville has held a blood drive on April 27, Officer Kalaman’s birthday. To date there have been over 4,000 units of blood donated. 

An annual golf tournament started by the city of Centerville and the Centerville Police Dept. raises proceeds for the John P. Kalaman Memorial Scholorship Fund

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There have been $256,000 in scholarships awarded to 51 high school students in the past 20 years, according to Kalaman. He said the scholarships are an investment in the future. “It’s important to make John’s death meaningful and to have something good come out of tragedy,” he said. 

To help ensure law enforcements officers would be safer while on the job, the Kalamans were instrumental in the enactment of the Move Over Law in Ohio, which requires drivers to move for stopped emergency and public service vehicles with lights flashing, and slow down if they can’t move over.

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