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Hagerstown cruise-in raises money for grateful Martinsburg officer

June 23, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - He lies awake at night worrying how he'll pay back the friends, family and strangers who have supported his family since he was diagnosed with cancer late last year.

Martinsburg (W.Va.) Police Officer J.R. Butcher, 29, said he can do that by beating cancer and returning to his job. Butcher, of Martinsburg, went on leave in December after being diagnosed with melanoma -- a rare but deadly type of skin cancer -- but hopes to return to work by August.

On Sunday, being reminded by his wife, Natalie, to go inside and out of the sun, Butcher said he was "overwhelmed" knowing that more than 500 people already had attended a cruise-in and concert to raise money for his medical expenses.

Butcher has been a police officer in Martinsburg for nine years.

Cindy Barnes, restaurant manager for Barefoot Bernie's in Hagerstown, where the cruise-in was held, said about 1,000 people were expected by the end of the day. The concert was held at Cancun Cantina.

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Barnes said she expected about 200 cars to be on display during the event.

Ralph Kneessi of Sharpsburg displayed his 1966 Chevy II Nova Super Sport on Sunday.

"It's a benefit show," he said. "I like doing the car shows as long as I know the money is going to the right hands."

Barnes and fellow organizer Stacey Harbaugh of Hagerstown said they hoped to raise about $5,000 for Butcher Sunday.

Harbaugh, the founder of Kruisers for Kids, said she heard about Butcher from her mother, Betty Rohrer, who works with Natalie Butcher at Wal-Mart in Hagerstown.

Butcher has had four surgeries since his diagnosis in November, the most recent to remove a tumor in his brain. After that surgery in May, doctors said he might never walk again.

But on Sunday, Butcher was walking with a slight limp, greeting his friends and smiling. He is undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

His wife said the months since Butcher's diagnosis have been "emotional."

"He's doing great," Natalie Butcher said. "From being told he'd never walk again to this."

Natalie Butcher said his progress is likely due to his commitment to his family, including his two children, stepdaughter Haley Swisher, 14, and his son, Tyler Butcher, 4.

"He's always been very self-motivated," Natalie Butcher said, referring to her husband. "It comes from knowing he has to be there for (his children)."

J.R. Butcher said he looks forward to returning to his job as a police officer.

"My goal is to return in August," he said. "I don't know if that is realistic. I really miss it. I just miss ... being on the road and dealing with the public."

When he went on leave, J.R. Butcher was a school resource officer at Martinsburg High School.

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