A Tragedy Strikes the Hill

Capitol Police Rally Around Their Own

Posted July 15, 2008 at 4:33pm

In the tight-knit community of Capitol Hill, an area that operates like its own city and is built on personal relationships, the Sims family perhaps best represents the type of quiet dedication and human ties that keep the place working, even when its politics are not.

So when a car struck Aidan Sims — a 22-year-old Capitol Police officer whose parents have worked on the Hill for a combined 63 years — and sent him into emergency brain surgery, the reaction from the Hill community was immediate and overwhelming.

“They just scooped us up and have treated us as their own family,” Sims’ mother, Gretel Lauro, said of the Capitol Police.

Lauro and her husband, Dave Sims, are never alone during their 14-hour days at Prince George’s Hospital Center, where Aidan Sims has been since June 21, the night of his accident. He remains in critical condition.

Capitol Police have maintained a schedule to make sure at least one officer is always with the family. They bring the parents meals throughout the day and give them a ride home late at night. They come in groups and alone, before and after work, oftentimes outside of the hospital’s visiting hours.

“Who’s going to argue with a group of Capitol Police officers?” Lauro says, lightly cracking a smile.

Lauro joined Rep. George Miller’s (D-Calif.) office in 1977, and her husband has worked as a House photographer since 1970. The two met on the Hill, and they sent their son and their daughter, Aislan, to the Senate day care as youngsters. Aidan Sims admired the Capitol Police growing up and was eager to join when he turned 21, the minimum age required for the department.

“He absolutely loves his job,” Dave Sims said, recalling the first minutes after his son came out of an induced coma last week. “The first thing he asked about was work.”

Aidan Sims has been in the police department just a year, but the bond among the officers is palpable.

A toy police car and badge sit on a dresser in Sims’ hospital room, and homemade posters and American flags brought over for the Fourth of July decorate the walls. If you didn’t know the uniformed officers were in the hospital to visit one of their colleagues, you would think it was for a work-related trip. But when you hear the whispers of love and support coming out of Sims’ room at the hospital, it’s clear these police are off duty.

“Anything we can do, and I really mean anything, just let us know,” an officer told Dave Sims one Friday afternoon. “We miss him at the department, and we want him to get better. We’re honored to help.”

Aidan Sims had only a minimal amount of sick leave accrued compared to his longer-serving colleagues. But through a federal program that allows employees to donate their own time, officers have given enough days off to keep Sims receiving a full paycheck for nearly one year. The department’s union set up a relief fund to help cover expenses, from physical therapy to parking at the hospital, and he even received a $1,000 donation from the U.S. Park Police.

“He’s not just part of the police department. His family is part of the community,” said Matt Tighe, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee.

Members of Congress and other Hill officials have made the quick drive down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to see Sims, and a group of officers is getting together on July 27 to toast his one-year mark as a Capitol Police officer.

House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, toting McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches and orange juice, came to be with the family in the early morning hours after Sims was rushed to the hospital. He has made regular visits since.

“The outreach from the Members and the staff is tremendous. It makes me proud to be part of the community,” said Livingood, who had never met Sims before the night of his accident.

Livingood has grown close to the family in the weeks since Sims’ accident, a hit-and-run on his neighborhood street in Glenn Dale, Md.

A van driven by 18-year-old Massino Mazziotti struck Sims. Mazziotto was charged with traffic violations, according to a Prince George’s County Police Department spokesman who could provide no further details.

Livingood sends e-mail updates to inquiring Members and staff to keep them informed of Sims’ slow and steady progress.

“I think they’re a very special family,” said Livingood, a former police office himself. “Everyone feels [Sims] is a terrific officer, and we want him back as soon as he can.”

The feeling is mutual.

“It would be difficult to name everyone who have made our lives a little easier these past few weeks,” Dave Sims said recently, thanking the police and Hill officials “for all the love and support they have given to Aidan and our family. They have truly gone the extra mile to help us make it this far.”

As Members and staff count down the days to the August recess, Aidan Sims’ parents count the minutes and hours that he is in the hospital, clinging to every tiny bit of progress their son makes in the critical care unit.

“You grasp, you look for little improvements, and it doesn’t come fast enough,” Dave Sims said. “We’ll take what we can get. That’s what keeps us going.”