9/11 responder Charles Wassil, former Peekskill detective, dies at 52

By Terence Corcoran Lower Hudson Journal

Peekskill police Det. Charles Wassil talks about his health issues at the Bethel Nursing Home in Croton-on-Hudson July 28, 2011. / Joe Larese/

Peekskill police Det. Charles Wassil talks about his health issues at the Bethel Nursing Home in Croton-on-Hudson July 28, 2011.  Joe Larese

PEEKSKILL — Charles “Charlie” Wassil, a former Marine and Peekskill police detective who helped search for 9/11 remains, died Wednesday at Hudson Valley Hospital Center. He was 52.

The cause was sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease he contracted after responding to Ground Zero, where he spent hours searching for victims and hauling buckets of rubble. The disease forced him into retirement in 2010.

The mood was somber Thursday morning at Peekskill police headquarters.

“Charlie was rough- and-tumble guy on the outside but, underneath, he was a compassionate and caring individual who wanted to help people,” Police Chief Eric Johansen said.

“He really gave it his all, whether it was a missing-person case, a homicide or stolen jewelry. He always recognized that each case was important to the victim and that’s why he was successful.”

Wassil grew up on the south end of Peekskill and graduated from Hendrick Hudson High School in 1977. He served in the Marines from 1977 to 1983 before joining the New York City Police Department in 1986, then the Peekskill Police Department in 1992.

Wassil walked a downtown beat early in his career and quickly made acquaintances with merchants and residents.

“He was a great ambassador for the Police Department throughout his career,” Johansen said.

Wassil investigated homicides and worked on major drug cases but was up for anything. In June 2008, when a wayward bear was roaming through Peekskill, Wassil cornered it with is car and forced it up a tree, where state workers tranquilized and removed it.

In a profile in The Journal News as the 10th anniversary of the attacks approached, Wassil recalled spending a week sifting through debris at Ground Zero. Three months after September 11, he started coughing.

At the time of the interview, he was being cared for at the Bethel Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Croton-on-Hudson.

“I can’t get out of bed without help. I can’t eat without help. I can’t drink. I can’t go to the bathroom by myself,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”

But Wassil said he didn’t consider himself a hero.

“The firemen who ran into the building that day, the cops, they are the real heroes,” he said.

Wassil was a licensed pilot. He was a member of the “Wild Pigs” Police Motorcycle Club.

“We’re sad, but we’re happy to have known Charlie and we’re glad he’s no longer suffering,” Johansen said.

Wassil is survived by his wife, Angela Vigorito Wassil, whom he married May 11; a sister, Judy Ryan; and a niece, Laura Rutkoski.

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