Officer died in the line of duty
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
Honolulu Police Sgt. Harry Coelho Jr. was off-duty at an outdoor church service last month, his head bowed in prayer, when he looked up to see two young men fighting.
Coelho, a 21-year HPD veteran, snapped into police mode. He stepped into the middle of the fight and called for backup — then dropped to his knees and died of a heart attack.
HPD said Coelho died in the line of duty.
"We looked at the circumstances," said HPD spokesman Capt. Frank Fujii. "We were able to ascertain that he engaged in actions that are consistent with his color of office by exercising proper police authority."
Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. today at Borthwick Mortuary on Maunakea Street.
"Ever since he was a kid, he really wanted to do what policemen did, protect the public," said Coelho's wife, Janet. "He really wanted to serve people.
"His famous quote was, 'I'm not here to arrest you. I'm here to be your friend.' That was always his line."
Coelho was a bodybuilder, former captain of the McKinley High School football team and a college scholarship fullback and linebacker who always watched what he ate.
Coelho also had suffered from seizures for the past 14 years and had a brain operation last year that took him off the streets and put him behind a desk working in the evidence division.
So it was a surprise to his family and close friends that he ended up dying of a heart attack on May 20 at age 48 at Hale'iwa Beach Park.
"Harry had had blackouts and seizures for years," said Pastor Ron Valenciana of Once A Month Church in Hale'iwa, where Coelho died. "He was very, very fit. So it was a shock to everybody that he had this major coronary, artery blockage. Everybody was concentrating on the blackouts and seizures."
Coelho died performing two of his passions: church service and police work.
He and his wife recently had been elevated to the positions of assistant pastor at Once A Month Church. He also was a regular at Promise Keepers at Mililani Baptist Church where "he was always into helping people," said Roy Ogasawara, one of the church's deacons who will deliver Coelho's eulogy today. "The more people he helped, the happier he was. And police work has been his lifelong passion."
Coelho grew up on welfare on Kina'u Street without a father around, his wife said. But he found strong role models among his coaches and police officers in the Police Athletic League.
"They would drop him off at home and really looked out for him," she said.
Coelho graduated from McKinley in 1976 and went to Linfield College in northwest Oregon on a football scholarship. After an injury in his sophomore year ended his career, Coelho graduated with a sociology degree in just three years.
He joined the HPD in 1985 and served in various patrol districts and in the Specialized Services Division, juvenile services division's DARE program, and in the records and ID division.
Coelho particularly loved the community policing part of the job, his wife said.
She and Coelho focused on Whitmore Village in the mid-1990s where they organized teen dances and worked with Navy officials, among other things, earning Coelho department honors in 1996.
At church, he helped elderly members, picked up trash and had a particular soft spot for single mothers and their children, his wife said.
"He would say, 'Janet, minister to the women and I'll get the children.' "
Coelho is survived by his wife, Janet Vidad Coelho; son Matthew; daughter Maya; mother, Rita; sisters, Yvonne (Derek) Sasano and Tracie Coelho; and brother, Dexter Coelho.
Visitation is scheduled at noon at Borthwick Mortuary, 1330 Maunakea St., with services at 2 p.m. Scattering of ashes is scheduled for 8 a.m. June 23 on the diamondhead side of Magic Island fronting the lagoon.
Reach Dan Nakaso at firstname.lastname@example.org.