Ambulance workers and emergency personnel from as far away as Boston stood in silence Monday at Woody Home for Services in Orange to give a final salute to one of their own, who fell in the line of duty.
“General Medical Transportation calling Unit 11,” said a voice interrupting the silence over a police scanner. “Keith Chipepo has served his last call.”
More than 150 friends and family, including more than 40 emergency personnel workers, gathered yesterday afternoon to remember Chipepo, 29, of Montclair, who was killed on Nov. 19 in a multi-vehicle crash in Newark that left three others injured.
When the silence broke to begin the funeral, the three dozen emergency personnel gathered around Chipepo’s coffin saluted him one more time to the deep moaning of bagpipes. Rev. James Holcomb then led the service.
Chipepo, a five-year EMT veteran, was born in Orange and was affectionately called “K” by his friends. He and his fiancee had three children -- all under the age of eight. Many of his friends and family retold stories about him during the service, mentioning that he played the drums and that he was a diehard Giants fan.
Chipepo was a passenger in a Grand Medical Transportation ambulance when a Chysler Pacifica, allegedly driven by James A. Sterling, 29, of Elizabeth, collided with it on Nov. 19 around 11:15 a.m. at the intersection of South Orange Avenue and South 9th Street, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. The collision also involved a food truck and county transportation bus.
Chipepo was transported to University Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
"He was a good worker," said Grand Medical Transportation Operations Manager Wanel Pierre. "Soft spoken and friendly. Our patients loved him; his co-workers loved him. He had a good impact [here]. ... Our condolences go out to him and his family."
Chipepo had been working Grand Medical Transportation for about three months.
At least six ambulances from surrounding towns such as Montclair, University Hospital, and Hackensack, in addition to a bus carrying EMT Honor Guards from Boston, lined Oakwood Avenue in Orange for the service. There were so many additional cars that police closed off the street during the funeral.
The others involved in the accident last week were a 26-year-old West Orange man who was driving the ambulance; a 57-year-old woman who was a patient in the ambulance; and a 34-year-old Bloomfield man who was driving the food truck. According to the original report, the driver of the county bus declined treatment.
Sterling was charged with aggravated manslaughter, driving with a suspended license, causing death and causing bodily injury while suspended. He is currently being held on $300,000 bail at the Essex County Jail.
The details surrounding the accident are still under investigation by the prosecutor's office, said spokeswoman Kathy Carter.