Former undersheriff added to police memorial in Albany

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
Yates County Undersheriff Ralph Legg

The names of eight officers who died last year from line-of-duty injuries have been added to the State of New York Police Memorial, along with 14 who died from illnesses related to recovery work at the World Trade Center destroyed by terrorists in 2001.

The May 5 ceremony included five historical submissions for officers never honored on the memorial. Among them was Yates County Undersheriff Ralph E. Legg. Legg died in 1958 as a result of an on duty traffic accident in a patrol car. Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike attended the ceremony at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, and was on the dais.

Among the others who died last year was nearby City of Rochester Police Officer Daryl Pierson, shot by a suspect.

Spike was contacted last year by Cliff Orr, the nephew of the late Ralph Legg. Orr, of Penn Yan noted that Legg was not on the memorial. After doing research assisted by Orr’s family information, news clippings, and agency archives, Spike submitted Legg’s name to the advisory committee, and Legg was accepted for a historical inclusion as having died from an on duty event.

The Undersheriff died at Soldiers & Sailors Hospital Aug. 28, 1958 after succumbing to injuries suffered five days before while on duty and as a passenger in a Sheriff’s patrol vehicle that was involved in a crash on the Sherman Hollow Road. Legg was well known by the community as “Leggy” due to his 6’6” height. He was a 20-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office at the time of his death, and was 66. He resided at 300 Lake St., Penn Yan with his wife, Hazel. He enjoyed and was very proud of his prized rose garden.

Undersheriff Legg had suffered a serious back injury from a previous on duty accident while on patrol at the Dundee Speedway. A tire had come off a race car and flew over, struck him in the back, knocking him down.

The patrol car he was a passenger in when he was fatally injured was traveling east at the time, driven by Deputy Henry Leach. They were returning to Penn Yan after being assigned to security and traffic duty at the Indian Pageant held near Middlesex. They rounded a curve and encountered a truck and car parked side by side, where drivers were transferring keys to one another. The patrol car struck the truck, and Undersheriff Legg was thrown out into the road from the passenger door when it came open on impact. He sustained a fractured skull and other internal injuries, and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. He never regained consciousness despite around the clock special nursing care.

Legg was well known in the Yates County community, and had been appointed Undersheriff by Sheriff Jay Fitzwater in 1953. He was popular with citizens and criminals alike. At a tribute in the Yates County Court, the District Attorney Lyman Smith said, “He served Yates County faithfully and cheerfully, and was ultimately fair and profoundly honest regardless of race or one’s station in life, and he went about his duty with a calm and sensible attitude with firmness and kindness and with good will, and a kind heart forever being devoted to protecting the people of Yates County in his service.”

Chief Deputy George Spike said, “Leggy was a role model for dedication and fairness, ever ready to give help or render advice whether on or off duty to help you.”

Undersheriff Legg was the second member of the Sheriff’s Office to be injured fatally within a year. Deputy William Leach, the brother of Deputy Henry Leach, was killed when his patrol car struck a tree ironically on the very same highway in 1957. The accident scenes were only three miles apart.

Also attending the solemn ceremony May 5 were Legg’s living relatives, Cliff and his wife, Michele Orr of Penn Yan and Cliff’s brother, Ralph and his wife, Mary Orr of Webster. Both Cliff and Ralph were nephews, and Ralph was named after his uncle. Although young boys at the time of their uncle’s death, they remember visiting his home often, and will always remember the large funeral gathering in 1958.

“It was with reverence to be able to memorialize Undersheriff Ralph Legg at the state’s everlasting monument to fallen police officers,” said Spike, “an honor he justly deserved.”