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October 14. 2012 10:47PM

Nashua police officer Joe DeWitt wins Footrace for the Fallen in Manchester

Nashua Police Officer Joseph DeWitt crosses the finish line as Manchester Police Officer Dan Doherty, Mayor Ted Gatsas, far right, and Shauna Barnum-Gouette from Members First Credit Union, watch DeWitt take first place overall in the Footrace for the Fallen 5K Sunday morning. (MARK BOLTON/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — If you’re a criminal in Nashua, you’d be foolish to not stop when ordered to do so by patrolman Joe DeWitt.

Dewitt, who works the third shift, had no trouble running away from the 715-runner field in Sunday’s Sixth Annual Footrace for the Fallen, winning his third straight title, in 16:17. The winning time toppled his 2011 winning time of 16:43.

Dewitt was nearly 20 seconds ahead of Lance Flamino, who finished second in 16:35.

DeWitt, who ran cross country at UMass Lowell, said he tries to stay in “running” shape, but went out too fast at the start of the 5K (3.1-mile) race that started and finished at the Manchester Police Department on Chestnut Street.

“I went out too fast,” DeWitt said after catching his breath. “I had to let up at the end and try not to overdo it. I just hope we win the team title, that’s what’s the most important to me, other than racing for a good cause like this.”

Stephanie Burham of Goffstown won the women’s race for the second straight year, with a time of 19:36.

The fact Burnham was laboring was hard to see by her 45-second advantage over second-place finisher Freja Pelich. Renee Chaput was the third place woman in 21:17.

“It’s a great race,” said Burham, who said she likes supporting law enforcement officials and the community. “I was hoping for a time under 19 minutes, but I’ve been doing a lot of long distance training and just ran the Smuttynose Marathon two weeks ago, finishing 10th in 3:18:09. My legs were really tired.”

For Bryan Leveirge, the training director at the Hillsborough County House of Corrections, having his group running together, as they have every year, stresses the closeness those in law enforcement and first responders have. “We don’t leave anyone behind,” said Leveirge. “We’re as fast as the slowest. We also want to support the Briggs family and the Manchester PD because Michael Briggs was one of us.”

Bedford patrolman Brian Fleming estimated five officers were running in the cool rain to show they support the other departments and that it’s not just a race.

Nancy Fletcher, a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Hospital in Boston, had a more personal reason: son-in-law Matt Barter is in his fourth year on the Manchester beat. “I love him like a son. It’s very personal for me to support him and the rest of his guys and help the Police Athletic League at the same time,” she said in a raincoat before the start.

Retired Derry policeman Dave Fletcher, who put in 20 years, quipped “I spent my time chasing guys through the streets of Derry and now I’m happy to just run at my pace through the race. We support each other and raise money for a great cause.”

Rick Brown, a prosecutor for Manchester, and race organizer, was ecstatic with the turnout. “This year we’ve got over 1,000 runners and we’ve got the most sponsorship we’ve ever had,” he said. “All the money goes to PAL and the kids of the city. There’s no event like this around and it’s the biggest fund-raiser for PAL that we have all year.”

The importance of the event was underscored for one observer, who held the finish line tape: Manchester policeman Dan Doherty, who’s recovering from gunshot wounds he received in a shootout March 21, taking four bullets into his hip region.

“This is much more than a race to me,” said Doherty, smiling from under a baseball hat. “I’m not that far removed from being one of the fallen that it would have been held for.”

Doherty who said he is improving from the gunshot wounds, had no timetable for his return. He just hoped it would be soon. “Everything’s good but this cold, wet weather is killing me,” he laughed.

Manchester Chief David Mara, standing proudly next to him, noted, “don’t be surprised if Dan’s in this race next year or the year after that,” he said, choking up a bit. “And I don’t mean by walking, either. He’ll be running it, you can be sure of that.”

“It’s all about the community and supporting each other,” said Mayor Ted Gatsas, who sent the runners on their way at the start. “And we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of everyone else.”

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