Shortly after Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone’s death Saturday, tributes from his legal colleagues and law enforcement officials from across Pennsylvania began pouring in.
Steve Toprani, who served one term as district attorney in the late 2000s that preceded Vittone’s tenure, wrote on social media about how Vittone helped him to reorganize the office while serving as an assistant district attorney.
“Most don’t know this, but the first call I made following my election (in 2007) was to convince Gene to return to the DA’s office. He answered and made an immeasurable impact on Washington County – especially in his own successful terms as DA,” Toprani wrote in a Facebook post Saturday night. “Gene was a man of faith, family and service to others – as a paramedic, prosecutor and community leader.”
Vittone served under Toprani – one of two stints as an assistant district attorney – before he left the office to run for the top position in November 2011 after Toprani decided not to run for re-election. Vittone won election three times and was in the middle of his third term when he died Saturday at a Pittsburgh hospital while battling lung cancer.
The funeral service for Vittone, 61, of Bentleyville, is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at Immaculate Conception Church in Washington. Workers from the Court of Common Pleas and members of Washington County Bar Association plan to line up outside the courthouse steps at 9 a.m. for a processional to the church.
That respect being paid to Vittone’s legacy has reached far beyond Washington County’s borders and political party lines.
Josh Shapiro, a Democrat serving his second term as Pennsylvania’s attorney general, tweeted his praise of Vittone, who was a Republican, for his years of service.
“DA Vittone listened with his big heart. He cared deeply about Washington County and pursuing justice. We in the office of (Pennsylvania Attorney General) will miss him,” Shapiro wrote in the post Sunday morning. “May Gene’s memory be a blessing.”
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday ordered all Pennsylvania flags on commonwealth facilities, public buildings and grounds in Washington County to be lowered to half-staff until sunset Thursday. He also invited all Pennsylvania residents to participate in the tribute for Vittone.
Acting U.S. Attorney Steve Kaufman for Western Pennsylvania noted Vittone’s work to combat the opioid epidemic and how he was a strong partner with federal prosecutors. Kaufman added Vittone attended a “drug summit” at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe last month, despite his illness.
“He was a great friend of our office and an unwavering partner in the fight to combat the opioid crisis,” Kaufman said in his written statement while offering condolences to Vittone’s family and the staff in the district attorney’s office. “He will be deeply missed by all of Western Pennsylvania law enforcement.”
Vittone had just been selected in late July to serve as president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. In a news release issued Sunday morning, the association said Vittone was “humble and unassuming” while serving as district attorney. He was also recently named to the National District Attorneys Association’s board of directors, where he served as Pennsylvania’s state director.
“Affable and gracious, Gene will be remembered for the tremendous contributions he made for the betterment of his community and profession,” the PDAA wrote in its statement. “His big heart and kind soul will be deeply missed.”
The PDAA lauded Vittone for his work to battle the opioid epidemic that hit Washington County especially hard in recent years as he pushed for the wide distribution of the life-saving opioid antidote Naloxone while also helping to create the Washington Opioid Overdose Coalition.
“The lives he helped save are now part of his legacy,” the statement read.
But above all, the tributes about Vittone signaled his kindness and compassion beyond his role as Washington Count’s top law enforcement official.
“To many of us, he was simply the most decent person,” the PDAA wrote in its release. “We are all better professionally and personally to have known him.”