Rick Verdecchia was born on May 20, 1945 in Sault Ste. Marie. After the death of his father, Rick left high school in the eleventh grade to help support his family. He later finished high school via correspondence. Rick worked for more than five years at Algoma Steel and in his spare time, he enjoyed hunting and fishing, played baseball and bowling.
When the family was settled financially, Rick announced that he wanted a job where he could help people and decided to join the OPP. On January 5, 1970, Rick began his policing career with the OPP and was posted to the Hearst Detachment. Shortly after he arrived in Hearst, he met his future wife. They soon married and had a daughter in 1980.
Rick and his family relocated to Huntsville with plans to build their dream house with a view of the lake on the outskirts of town. The eleven-year police veteran enjoyed a late New Year’s Day dinner with his family before leaving for work at about eleven-thirty on January 1, 1981.
On January 1, 1981 two young men, stole weapons from the home of friends known to one of the men. They cut across Highway 17 to Highway 11 traveling southbound towards a service station in Burks Falls. When they did not have the money to pay for the gasoline, the oldest of the two men fatally shot the attendant and left him by the pumps.
The police were dispatched but there was a mix up in communications. As it appeared the car, which the fugitives were driving in, was related to another minor occurrence. Verdecchia observed the men traveling south and turned his cruiser around to pursue the vehicle. As the young men turned west onto Highway 141, they slid into a snow bank. Constable Verdecchia approached the right side of the vehicle and was shot through the open passenger window. Angry that he had not killed the officer outright, the assailant left the car and shot Verdecchia a second time.
The two men rolled the officer’s body over the snow bank and fled the scene in the cruiser. Rick’s body was not found for seven hours. Their car was observed just north of Orillia and was clocked on radar at 107kpm. Constable Neil Hurtubise stopped the vehicle and approached the car cautiously but was shot several times. Neil was able to unholster his service revolver and fire three shots. The unexpected return of fire caused the young men to drive off.
Constable Hurtubise managed to crawl to his cruiser and call for assistance. Seven different cruisers responded. Within three minutes, an officer arrived and transported Hurtibise to Soldiers Memorial Hospital in Orillia. The hunt for the assailants went into full gear. The two men abandoned their vehicle near a local hotel on Highway 11 in Orillia and were tracked at 3:55am to an auto repair shop. The two men were found sleeping in an old van.
In the weeks that followed, one of the assailant’s lawyers stated that his client was dangerous and possibly insane. At the subsequent murder trial, expert witnesses backed up the lawyer’s statement. Despite reference of insanity, the man was found guilty of two counts of murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole for twenty-five years.
There were thirteen hundred police officers in attendance at the funeral of Rick Verdecchia in Huntsville. Following the funeral, a group of concerned citizens started a drive to have soft body armour purchased for Huntsville officers. Commissioner Graham had authorized product testing and soon after the body armour came into general use.
In October 1999, Rick Verdecchia’s killer Gary Fitzgerald escaped the minimum security Ferndale Institute in Abbotsford, British Columbia after having served 18 years of his sentence. Three months later, he was captured in Los Angeles and returned to prison.