WYCKOFF, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Last year, the community of Wyckoff mourned the passing of a high school star athlete, Ben Landel.
Recently, a police officer helped the Landel family recover a precious family possession.
The story of a brother’s jacket is the focus of this week’s Snapshot New York with CBS2’s Steve Overmyer.
“When I saw Jack, the first thing that came to mind was something just didn’t fit because he was in business casual clothes with a backpack on. Nobody was chasing him. He wasn’t running from something. I figured he was running after something because he wasn’t out for exercise,” Wyckoff Police Sgt. Mark Tagliareni said.
Jack Landel was running after something, a prized possession left on a bus heading back to the city.
“I just started running that way after the bus,” Landel said.
“As I passed him he stopped running in his tracks and just put his head down,” Sgt. Tagliareni said.
“I was sobbing. I was real beat up. I said, ‘My brother passed away. His jacket is on the bus. I really need that back. I don’t know what I’m gonna do,'” Jack said.
“We were best friends since … he was born.”
Jack’s brother, Ben, was taken too early, and with little warning. Ben was a soccer and track star at Ramapo High School. By his sophomore year he drew interest from Division-1 universities. At the age of 17 he was surprisingly diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. It was so aggressive, it took him in nine months.
“They had bunk beds here. This is a little bit of a hard room for me to be in,” mother Tricia said.
Ben’s family has kept every trophy, every medal and every honor he received.
“(He) was a tremendous athlete and a huge sports fan,” Tricia said.
Ben’s favorite team was the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was even invited to watch a game from the sidelines.
“Ben was in charge of getting waters for all the players. As soon as he took his bucket hat off, James Conner just came walking right over,” Tricia said.
An instant connection was made with Conner, who endured his own fight against cancer.
“He was present and they were engaged in conversation. Then James signed his jersey and gave Ben a football,” Tricia said. “For that day to be so special for him was an enormous gift.”
The jacket he wore that day was now out of sight — on a bus somewhere in New Jersey.
Then Sgt. Tagliareni stepped in.
“So I said, ‘Jump in. Jump in the back. We’ll go take a ride. We’ll find the bus,'” Tagliareni said.
Not knowing the route, the sergeant just hit the accelerator and the lights until the search concluded.
“Any other jacket, I know I never would have seen it again,” Jack said. “But I know it was (Ben’s) jacket. It was one of his favorite jackets, so (Sgt. Tagliareni) made sure I got it back,. So, to me, that just puts another piece of him on it.
“You try to handle it the way he would’ve handled it,” Jack said, adding, “Ben would’ve caught the bus.”
Ben passed away a year ago this month. His memory still lives on the fields of Wyckoff, in the hearts of his family, and in the actions of everyone he touched.
“I would’ve done it for any resident, but I’m especially glad it was Jack Landel and I was able to give him a lift, in more ways than one,” Tagliareni said.
“It made me realize how beautiful the world is around us,” Tricia said. “Despite the tragedy that we have been through, we know that our community is beautiful.”
The moral of the story here is sometimes a seemingly innocuous act can have a world of impact.
“Last effects, lasting effects,” Tricia said.
“That’s where it all comes full circle the most because Ben understood that more than anybody,” Jack added.
“There are so many wonderful people in this world, and it’s one of those moments when you realize (Ben) is still here,” Tricia said.
Jack said he still wears his brother’s jacket, but won’t ever again when he’s riding the bus.