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Robert C. Stoddart, first state trooper to nab a speeder from the air

Aug. 23, 1937 – March 8, 2018

Robert C. Stoddart earned a place in history from the cockpit of a Cessna Skyhawk 800 feet above the Thruway on Sept. 15, 1967.

Part of the inaugural group of four State Police pilots assigned to catch lead-footed drivers, he became the first trooper in a fixed-wing aircraft to call out a speeding violation to a patrol car on the ground.

During the first four months of the program, troopers in the sky, based in Schenectady, nabbed 194 speeders and spotted 176 motorists in need of assistance.

However, Trooper Stoddart, who was promoted to technical sergeant when he was accepted into the air division, did not stay with the State Police. Back in Elma, he had a newborn son.

“When he flew for them, he was never home,” said his wife, Sandra. “With the kids coming along, he wanted to be here.”

Mr. Stoddart became a tax compliance officer with the state Department of Taxation beginning in 1968, and worked from the Buffalo office, tracking down scofflaws.

He died March 8 in Mercy Hospital after a short illness. He was 80.

Born in Buffalo, the third of four children, he grew up in West Seneca. After he graduated from West Seneca High School in 1955, he found a job in the Ford Stamping Plant in Woodlawn.

“He hated it,” his wife said. “One day he and his buddy went for a flight over the city and he got the bug.”

Mr. Stoddart learned to fly at Buffalo Airpark in West Seneca and found other jobs, first at the West Seneca Water Department, then in maintenance with American Airlines at the Buffalo airport. When he was laid off, he took the state trooper exam.

He joined the State Police in June 1961 and was stationed in Waverly, West Winfield, Henrietta and Wellsville. When a call was made for pilot candidates, he was one of 50 who applied. Having a commercial license, an instrument rating and more than 500 hours of flight time, he was chosen.

Besides working for the Department of Taxation, he also worked with the State Liquor Authority and briefly as an air traffic controller at the Buffalo airport. He retired in 1992.

Mr. Stoddart had his own small plane and continued to be based at Buffalo Airpark, where he was an instructor for hundreds of young pilots. By the time he stopped flying in 1996, he had logged more than 10,000 hours in the air.

“His claim to fame was that he never lost a student,” his wife said. “Nobody crashed.”

A longtime member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in West Falls, he served on the church council for 35 years. When his first wife, Patti, died in 1991, the pastor introduced him to a widow in the congregation, Sandra Wacker Sell.

“The pastor thought Bob needed somebody right away,” she said, “so he introduced us. We went to dinner and got married a year from our first date. He sold his house, I sold my house and we built our home in Orchard Park.”

He was a Mason and a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. He enjoyed golf and spent part of each winter in New Smyrna Beach, Fla.

Survivors also include three daughters, Heather Cummings, Kelly Gray and Marcy Radford; two sons, Jeffrey Sell and Douglas; three sisters, Jeanette Held, Barbara Hummel and Sharon Stevens; and 13 grandchildren.

A memorial service was held March 18.

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