Motorcyclists surprise terminally ill Easton native, who as a cop assisted in 9/11 cleanup

By Sara K. Satullo The Express-Times

Violetta DePamphilis, left, sits with her sister, former NYPD officer Claudia DePamphilis-Morrison, Matt Smith, The Express-Times

Violetta DePamphilis, left, sits with her sister, former NYPD officer Claudia DePamphilis-Morrison, Matt Smith, The Express-Times

Easton native Claudia DePamphilis-Morrison gave tirelessly at ground zero working as a New York City police officer assisting in search and recovery.

It was devastating when four years ago she was diagnosed with the rare neurological disorder multiple system atrophy.

Doctors think it is linked to her time spent at ground zero, said her sister, Caroline Eppinger, of Saylorsburg. The disease attacks the brain and nervous system and erodes motor skills.

DePamphilis-Morrison, a married mother of three, moved back to her childhood College Hill home in January and today she got a hero’s welcome back to Easton.

DePamphilis-Morrison went to lunch at Cheeburger Cheeburger today, thinking she was going to take a short motorcycle ride with her nurse afterward.

Instead, as she came around the circle at Centre Square, she was met with cheers and more than 150 bikers eager to help her cross a motorcycle ride off her bucket list.

“This is probably the first really positive thing to come about (for her lately),” Eppinger said.

Easton police Lt. Sam Lobb grew up with the DePamphilis girls, so he said he had to make it happen when he learned of DePamphilis-Morrison’s dream. He found a motorcycle with a sidecar and enlisted the help of Cheeburger Cheeburger and Drinky’s to draw a crowd and host the celebration.

“He’s been like our angel,” Eppinger said.

DePamphilis-Morrison grinned and waved when she saw the crowd. She posed for tons of pictures with friends and family members. Her sister, Violetta DePamphilis, joined her in the sidecar for the ride.

Drinky’s general manager Tommy Urglavich, who helped organize the event, introduced DePamphilis-Morrison to the crowd, sharing her life story.

“Claudia just wanted to go on a small ride,” Urglavich said to cheers. “I think we did OK.”

Easton and Bethlehem police provided escorts for dangerous intersections on the roughly hour-long ride.

The group planned to give DePamphilis-Morrison a chance to ride at the front of the pack and the back of the pack.

DePamphilis-Morrison was forced to retire from the New York City Police Department in 2011. She entered the police academy in 1994 and she worked as a patrol officer in the 120th and 123rd precincts in Staten Island.

After 9/11, many police officers died of lung cancer and related diseases from their exposure, Eppinger said. Today, many ground zero first responders are grappling with rare neurological disorders, she said.

It’s been especially tough on DePamphilis-Morrison, who was an athlete at Notre Dame High School, Eppinger said.

“She can’t even walk without assistance,” Eppinger said.

But today the DePamphilis sisters weren’t worrying.

They were celebrating their sister and enjoying the wind in their hair.

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