City renames street for fallen officer

NASHUA – More than 90 years after Patrolman James Roche became the first Nashua police officer to die from being shot while on duty, city officials honored him Thursday by giving a street the name of Officer James Roche Drive.

With the renaming of Panther Drive to Officer James Roche Drive, the city paid homage to an officer who spent six years serving the city before he was gunned down while on duty in pursuit of a suspect. He died Oct. 15, 1928, which was 22 days after a criminal shot him.

The renaming of the street is not only just in time for National Law Enforcement Week, it also serves as a reminder of the risks police officers take each and every day.

“We’re finally, after all these years, giving him the recognition he deserves,” Mayor Jim Donchess said during the dedication. “I think expressing through this dedication that the community greatly appreciates the work and the sacrifices and the risk that is taken by all our first responders, our (police) certainly most on this day, but also our firefighters and EMTs who take these kinds of risks.”

Along with members of the department and Donchess were community leaders including Board of Aldermen members Tom Lopez, Shoshanna Kelly and board President Lori Wilshire, as well as Police Commissioner Nicholas Dahl, Fire Rescue Chief Brian Rhodes and Assistant Fire Chief George Walker.

On Sept. 23, 1928, Roche, while on foot patrol, encountered Thomas Kelley of Manchester on the porch of 32 Temple St. Roche and Kelley, who had been suspected of burglary, traded gunfire. Five of the six bullets fired at Roche hit him, and he was rushed to Nashua Memorial Hospital where he died three weeks later at the age of 53.

Roche’s two shots at Kelley killed the suspect.

“He rose to the occasion; he was able to do his job very well,” Nashua Police Chief Andrew Lavoie said. “Unfortunately, even when you do it well, there’s a chance that you will lose your life in the line of duty.”

Roche, an Irish immigrant who had previously served as a constable in Ireland, left behind a wife and five children. After the unveiling of the new street sign, the department honored Roche’s granddaughter and her husband, Linda and Ronald Gaudette, with a full-size copy of the street sign.

Linda Gaudette said the ceremony and the gift stirred her emotions. She said ceremonies such as these help to keep the legacy of her grandfather and others alive.

“I think that as long as I can go to these ceremonies, it keeps his legacy alive,” Gaudette said. “There are so many police officers that are killed just for the sake of being killed.”

“I think this is good because people realize they are only people,” she continued. “They have families and they are just trying to help everybody.”

Lavoie echoed Gaudette’s sentiments. He also said renaming the street honors not only Roche, but the three other officers who have lost their lives while serving the community. These were:

• Patrolman Michael Latvis in 1956,

• Patrolman Edward Graziano in 1964, and

• Acting Chief Armand Roussel in 1971.

Without the efforts of Sgt. John Yurcak, who worked with his superiors in order to get the name changed, Lavoie said the idea of renaming a street never occurred to anyone involved until Yurcak thought of it.

“We honor all four of our officers killed in the line of duty,” Lavoie said. “Being the first one, you know, Sgt. John Yurcak actually took it upon himself to bring this to our attention to rename the street in his honor.”

“We felt that was a great idea and then we started the process,” Lavoie added. “The aldermen, the mayor, they have all been on board. They have been a great help to us, and we were able to bring it to fruition.”

Mathew Plamondon may be reached at 594-1244, or at mplamondon@nashuatelegraph.com.