Veteran Dayton police officer succumbs to cancer just months shy of retirement

Ricky Skarpa began his law enforcement career in Liberty in 1975, working for the department until 2009 when he joined the ranks of Dayton Police Department.

By Vanesa Brashier, editor@bluebonnetnews.com

Ricky Skarpa, a veteran police officer with 44 years of public service in Liberty County, died after a lengthy battle with colon cancer Tuesday, March 19, at his home in Dayton. He was 64.

Skarpa was a legendary figure among officers at Liberty and Dayton police departments. His entire career was spent between the two agencies – starting at Liberty Police Department in 1975 as a dispatcher,moving up through the ranks until he was named patrol sergeant, and then joining Dayton Police Department in 2009, just days after retiring from LPD.

“In January of this year, he was at work in Dayton when he collapsed and ended up spending 27 days in the hospital. Doctors removed a mass of cancer and fixed a perforation, but he just didn’t get better after that,” said his wife Debbie. “He was back and forth at the hospital but didn’t respond to any treatments. He fought to the very end though. He used to tell me that death had no mercy.”

When the family knew his life was nearing its end, they took him to their house in Dayton, which overlooks a lake in the Trinity River basin. They made him comfortable and waited for the inevitable.

“His daughter, Barbie, and I were holding his hands when he passed,” Debbie said.

Skarpa had planned to retire in August when he turned 65.

“He was one in a million. He was the hardest-working man I ever knew,” his wife said. “He was always very respectful and I admired him for that. To him, it didn’t matter where you came from, you earned your respect just like everyone else.”

‘No shades of gray’

Skarpa’s peers in law enforcement all describe him as someone who followed the rules with no ambiguity for right or wrong.

“Everyone talks about a person being straight as an arrow, black and white with no shades of gray. That was Ricky,” said Dayton Police Capt. John Coleman. “He lived clean. There were people who sometimes had issues with the way he did things, but it’s because he did things by the book. He always followed the rules and always promoted that belief among the officers.”

According to Coleman, Skarpa was one of the most qualified peace officers in the area.

“He started as a dispatcher and worked his way through patrol. He was an instructor for DWI and had served on the SWAT in Liberty. He was a driving instructor and was one of the few non-DPS troopers certified for alcohol intoxilyer testing,” Coleman said. “He also was skilled in hand-to-hand combat. Even though he was older when he came to work for us, he still impressed the younger guys. There were a couple of times where skirmishes broke out and he was impressive to watch. The younger guys might have underestimated him at first.”

Liberty County Pct. 2 Deputy Constable David Allison spent many years at Liberty PD working alongside Skarpa. The two also were part of a side venture that offered motorcycle escorts to area funeral homes.

Allison was a rookie cop when he started at Liberty PD 36 years ago.

“A lot of people thought he was the roughest and meanest cop around. If you got caught speeding, he was going to write you a ticket,” Allison said. “When I was in high school, I had just gotten my driver’s license. He stopped me and gave me a warning. This man must have gone through a book of warning tickets every three years, so a warning was unexpected.”

Allison recalls being intimidated by Skarpa’s gruff demeanor as a young man and even more so when he began his law enforcement career.

“I went in to see Fred Clements, who was the Liberty police chief at the time. I was excited until he told me that Skarpa was my field training officer. He said I turned ghost white because I was scared to death,” Allison said with a chuckle. “I started sweating and said, ‘Please put me with anyone else but him, but he didn’t, and it worked out well for me.”

The two soon became the best of friends.

Allison said Skarpa’s use of Post-it notes to schedule meetings with officers was both effective and terrifying.

“We hated showing up for work and seeing a Post-it note on our mailbox that said, ‘Come see me.’ He always signed the notes with his number – 503,” he said. “As many times as I was in his office, he probably began reusing the same notes.”

Whether an officer was in trouble or was getting a pat on the back for a job well done, Skarpa’s tone of voice was calm and never wavered, Allison said.

When asked if the reprimands that followed the Post-it notes he received were warranted, Allison chuckled and said, “Every one of them. If you did something wrong, you got chewed out. If you did something right, he praised you. It made me a better police officer. I am who I am today because of Ricky Skarpa.”

Funeral to be held in Dayton Saturday

Ricky was one of three children born to Leroy and Earlene Skarpa of Dayton. He is survived by his mother; his wife, Debbie Skarpa; sisters, Peggy Wallett and Sandra Nona; daughters, Barbie Skarpa and Brandi Grimes; son, Bobby Skarpa; stepsons, Jonathon Collier and Thomas Collier; grandchildren, Austin, Taylor, Cameron, Aiden, Grayson, Sidnii, Brianna, Caden and Kinsley; and one great-granddaughter, Brailah.

Visitation for Skarpa is set for Friday, March 22, from 5 to 8 p.m., at Pace-Stancil Funeral Home in Dayton. His funeral will be held Saturday, March 23, 10 a.m., at Pace-Stancil Funeral Home Chapel in Dayton. Interment will follow at Magnolia Park Cemetery.

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