James W. Staerk, 54, a longtime prosecutor for the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, died of spinal muscular atrophy on Thursday, April 17, in Bluffton, S.C.
Mr. Staerk grew up in Abington, where he lived until retiring to South Carolina in January. He worked for 27 years as an assistant district attorney in Montgomery County, where he led the forfeiture division and seized planes, cars, houses and other assets.
Diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at age 4, Mr. Staerk was a quadriplegic and spent his life in a wheelchair, but "figured out how to do almost everything," said his sister Kathleen Allison-Earle.
He attended Abington High School and earned a bachelor's degree in public administration from La Salle University in 1981. He graduated from Villanova Unviersity School of Law in 1984 and began working in the Montgomery County District Attorney's office later that year.
Mr. Staerk mentored young attorneys in his office and was known for his wit and sense of humor.
"You quickly got past the wheelchair because his brain and his sense of humor and his kindness was so extraordinary that you just fell in love with him," his sister said.
She recalled one story of her brother prosecuting someone accused of being a drug dealer who argued that he had sold marijuana because he did not have another job.
"And my brother used his wheelchair to go back and forth in the courtroom," she said, arguing "that he could certainly find some good use for his life."
Fellow lawyers and county detectives took turns driving Mr. Staerk to work each day until his retirement in 2012.
One of his brothers took him along on business trips around the world, including to Ireland, Germany, Turkey and Czechoslovakia, and he traveled with friends to La Salle basketball games around the country. He also enjoyed playing chess and collecting music.
Mr. Staerk was a member of the Montgomery County and Pennsylvania Bar Associations and the La Salle University chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity.
In 2011, he was presented with the James D. Stefan Law Enforcement Award from the Montgomery Bar Association. The annual award honors law enforcement officials who go beyond the scope of their duties to promote justice.
In addition to Kathleen Allison-Earle, Mr. Staerk is survived by sisters Eileen Forst and Maureen Shannon; two brothers, William and Robert; and seven nieces and nephews.
A viewing will be held Saturday, April 26 at St. John of the Cross Church, 2741 Woodland Rd. in Roslyn, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. A Funeral Mass will follow at 11:30 a.m. Burial will be at Calvary Cemetery in Conshohocken.