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'Good cop' killed in plane crash died doing what he loved, family says

Utah County sergeant 'always had the itch to fly,' wife says

Published: Saturday, Sept. 14 2013 5:53 p.m. MDT

Law enforcement officers saltue as the casket of Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Jay Dee Lessley is carried during funeral services in Mapleton on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. Lessley, a 13-year veteran of law enforcement, died on impact in an experimental airplane.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

MAPLETON — Although it might sound cliché, Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Jay Lessley died doing what he loved.

While off-duty, Lessley, 40, was piloting a small plane that crashed west of the Spanish Fork Airport on Sept. 6. He died on impact and it was later determined that the aircraft mechanics had failed.

At his funeral Saturday, Heather Lessley scoffed at the irony of the situation, as she recalled pushing her husband to follow his dream of learning to fly several years ago.

"He always had the itch to fly," she told a chapel full of well-wishers, many of whom donned uniforms similar to her husband's. "He should have been born with wings and a tail because his head was always in the clouds."

The deceased sergeant was remembered for his vibrant personality and oozing patriotism, as well as for his love of family, flying and law enforcement.

"He wanted to be a good cop," Heather Lessley said. "He was a good cop and he loved every second of it."

Utah County Sheriff's Lt. Dave Bennett lauded Lessley as "one of the highest producing officers," as he turned over many arrests and citations each month, meticulously relaying each circumstance with much detail in his written reports.

Bennett, also a pilot, shared many hours with Lessley in the office's Cessna 180. He said his colleague and friend wore "wings" above the nametag on his uniform that were seemingly larger than his badge, reflecting Lessley's deep love for aviation.

"We would score each other's landings," Bennett said. "It was always fun to fly with Jay."

That same small plane, as well as the Diamond DA20 in which Lessley learned to fly, graced the Springville Evergreen Cemetery Saturday afternoon, during the accomplished officer's burial ceremony.

Fellow officers, as well as dozens from throughout Utah County and elsewhere in the state, also offered a guided procession to the cemetery, a gun salute and played Taps, which is common at services for military and law enforcement personnel.

After moving from Montana to Arizona as a child, Lessley joined the LDS Church and always took pride in sharing his birthday with the faith's restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood. At the time of his death, he was serving as a Primary chorister in the Mapleton 13th Ward.

Lessley began his career in law enforcement at BYU, where he worked as a police officer, writing many tickets for unregistered bicycles, skateboarding on campus and people walking in restricted areas. But colleagues said he often stretched his duties beyond campus, exhibiting his desire to make an impact.

"He always treated prisoners with respect … even getting thanked for transporting them to the jail," Heather Lessley said, adding that her husband only wanted to help correct wrongdoings in the communities he served.

Aside from his career, she said her husband loved their daughter, Samara Rose, and was "smitten with her at first sight."

At the time of his death, Lessley was teaching the 14-year-old to fly and to build rockets. The two also shared a love of music.

Each year on Samara's birthday, the family would take a flight around the valley. Lessley said her husband's "temperament, dry wit and quirky personality" live on in their daughter.

"Talk to her, you'll see him," she said, adding that he'll be terribly missed by them both.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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