Cleary said that Friel was set to marry his longtime girlfriend and that they had just moved into a house around the corner from where he grew up on Sepviva Street near Tucker. She said the couple had a 5-year-old son.
"This is a big loss," she said.
Friel's family declined to comment.
Police said Friel was assigned to the 5th Police District in Roxborough after he graduated from the Police Academy about six months ago.
He was on patrol, traveling southbound on Ridge Avenue near Acorn Street, when a 1984 Monte Carlo driven by Oliver Mallon, 26, veered across the double yellow lines from the northbound lane into the officer's new patrol car, police said.
Mallon's car smashed into the driver's side of Friel's cruiser, causing its rear tire to blow.
Friel's car spun out of control, smashed into a street sign and flipped, said police.
Mallon's car traveled another 25 to 30 feet before crashing into a tree.
Friel was pronounced dead at the Medical College of Philadelphia at 3:05 a.m. Mallon was uninjured.
Mallon, an electronics student who came here from Ireland about three years ago, was on his way home to Manayunk when the crash occurred, police said.
He's been charged with vehicular homicide, driving under the influence of alcohol and reckless driving.
At the 5th District last night, Friel's colleagues were trying to come to grips with the death of the enthusiastic young rookie.
"I have 14 years on the job and that doesn't make me the sage of the Police Department," said Cpl. Robin Hill, "but I've seen enough people come and go that you can spot somebody with potential like Joe had. Everybody felt this guy was going to go far."
Friel was eager to learn, Hill said. "Up here" - in the 5th - "you don't get that many opportunities, being in a slow district, to make the big arrests. But he wanted to know as much as he could. He wanted to learn and wanted people to teach him so he could do it himself and that really impressed me."
"The only way I can think of that we can rationalize this," said Hill softly, "is that the Lord sent his angel to get a sentry for heaven's gate, and unfortunately for us, he got the best."