Retired Atlantic City police Detective Lawrence Lee had breakfast every weekday at the same restaurant with a group of fellow retired officers.
But on Thursday, his car veered off the road a few blocks from his destination and the 63-year-old resort resident was killed.
The Absecon Police Department said Lee was traveling west on Route 30 near Delilah Road at 8 a.m. when his vehicle left the roadway, striking a billboard and overturning into the marsh. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Zikos Economides, owner of Zikos Diner on West Delilah Road, said the group has been meeting at the diner every weekday morning for years. Lee would often bring his children and grandchildren along.
"He was a very nice gentleman and a very kind person," Economides said. "He will be missed. He's a hell of a man."
The group was waiting for Lee to arrive Thursday morning when one of them called his cell phone.
"He said, ‘We're all waiting for you, Larry,'" Economides said. "He said he would be there in a few minutes."
But another member of the group passed the accident scene and recognized Lee's car. The group left the restaurant and went to the site.
"They all came back and said he was dead," Economides said. "They sat there and finished their breakfast. It was so sad."
Talib Tiller, Lee's son, said his father served the ACPD for 25 years, retiring as a detective in 1999. Lee had three sons and a daughter, Tiller said.
At Lee's house Thursday, his youngest son, Sulaimaan Abdullah, reflected on his father's life.
"He was a great cop. He did a lot of services for the community, and he was a really good guy," Abdullah said.
The Atlantic County chapter of the Retired Police and Firemen's Association held a moment of silence in Lee's honor at their meeting Thursday afternoon at the PBA Hall in Atlantic City.
Retired Chief John Mooney said Lee was hired in November 1973 when the city received a grant and instituted some walking patrols. Lee's first beat was between Rhode Island, Melrose, Maine and Caspian avenues, Mooney said.
"He was a big guy, and he had an imposing presence, especially among the young people in the community," Mooney said. "He commanded some respect."
Despite that presence, Mooney likened Lee to a "gentle giant" and said he was very respectful of the residents.
Officer David Davidson, president of the department's Police Benevolent Association Local 24, served with Lee for 15 years and said Lee acted as a mentor to young police officers.
"Working with him was an eye-opening experience. He looked out for everyone. He would call me ‘young man.' He'd say, ‘You've got to slow down, young man. You've got to take it easy and look at things differently,'" Davidson said. "I had a problem adjusting to police life, and he told me to slow down and not take things personally. He said, ‘Don't take it personally. It's not about you.' I wish I had heeded that advice."
The Atlantic City Police Department did not comment on Lee's death. Deputy Chief Ernest Jubilee did not return a call seeking comment.
This is the second accident that occurred near the site in three days.
Atlantic City resident Shannon Washington, 23, was heading west on Route 30 before the Delilah Road ramp at 10:21 a.m. Tuesday when his car veered off the road and struck a speed limit sign and street light, police said. Washington's vehicle then flipped over and landed off the road. He was transported to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus in Atlantic City, for treatment.
A hospital spokeswoman said Washington was discharged Wednesday.
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