Sussex County’s finest and bravest put on a massive, heartfelt show of appreciation for an ailing undersheriff early Sunday afternoon, in what turned out to be mere hours before he lost his battle with cancer Sunday night, as a dozens of police, fire and ambulance vehicles complete with blaring sirens and flashing lights made its way past his house.


A former Newton police chief, Undersheriff John Tomasula had been with the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office since December 2014, when he was made director of communications and tasked with overseeing implementation of the new countywide 9-1-1 system.


Tomasula, of Hampton, was most recently promoted to undersheriff in March 2018, at which time he assumed responsibility for day-to-day oversight of the county correctional facility.


Sheriff Michael Strada, in an email, described Tomasula as "a family man who was well respected in the law enforcement community with his many years of service both at the Newton Police Department and the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office."


"We were glad to be able to honor John," Strada said. "It was a wonderful tribute."


After paying tribute to Tomasula, the motorcade continued on to Newton Medical Center, where the dozens of vehicles put on the same display for the hospital’s doctors, nurses and other unsung heroes in healthcare who are continuing to work the front lines in the ongoing war against the COVID-19 pandemic.


As the emergency vehicles passed by the hospital, many doctors and nurses momentarily came outside and reciprocated the show of gratitude by waving and giving a "thumbs-up" show of acknowledgement.


The motorcade that came together Sunday began at a staging area at Kittatinny Regional High School, from which it commenced the first leg of its journey past Tomasula's home in Hampton before continuing on to the hospital.


A lifelong Sussex County resident, Tomasula grew up in Newton and developed an early interest in public service that began with the Newton Volunteer First Aid and Rescue Squad, where he served several years in a role that led him to a job as a police dispatcher with the Newton Police Department and his eventual hiring as a Newton police officer in 1985.


In 1988, Tomasula was assigned to the Newton Police Department's detective bureau, where he completed additional specialized training in narcotics, motor vehicle and crime scene investigation as well as advance interrogation and interview techniques. In furtherance of the department's community police initiatives, he also instituted a bicycle patrol program and eventually received promotions to patrol sergeant and later captain, in which capacity he completed several additional certifications in areas that included 9-1-1 communications and response to school shootings.


Prior to being named Newton police chief in 2000, a position he held for 10 years, Tomasula also completed the West Point Command and Leadership Program for police officers. As police chief, Tomasula oversaw the construction of a new police facility and also graduated from the FBI National Academy.


Other honors he received during his 35-year law enforcement career were the Knights of Columbus Council 7784 Police Officer of the Year as well as service awards by the Sparta Chapter of Unico and PBA Local 138. He also served as executive board secretary and vice-president of the Sussex County Police Chief’s Association.


Vee Rumsey, a past president of Hampton Township Fire & Rescue who formerly worked under Tomasula in Newton, wrote on Facebook that she "couldn’t be more proud of the First Responders I call Family" who participated in Sunday’s tribute.


"John Tomasula (JT) know that you are loved by so many. Our Positive Thoughts and Prayers are with you always," she wrote.