Florida's Fallen Peace Officers Remembered
By Craig W. Floyd, Chairman & CEO, June 30, 2010
In the Line of Duty
It was late on Sunday, May 2, when my plane touched down in Tallahassee. I had spent much of the flight putting the finishing touches on the speech I would deliver the next day at the 28th Annual Florida Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Service, sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
Jim Preston, a longtime friend and supporter and the President of the Florida FOP, picked me up at the airport. It was a beautiful evening, so when we arrived at the Governor’s Inn right next to the State Capitol, I asked Jim if he would walk me over to the Florida Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial, the site of the next day’s ceremony. It was just a couple of blocks away and was located in a large plaza area between the historic Statehouse built in 1845 and a newer one built about 30 years ago.
The site could not have been more prominent. Jim explained that the FOP had been given the site by the Florida State Legislature in 1985. A white marble memorial headstone with an inscription would serve as the State Memorial until 2000, when it was replaced by a larger black marble wall filled with the names of Florida’s fallen officers that would surround what is referred to as the “tree of life,” a historic landmark that dominates the Statehouse plaza.
The ceremony the next day began with a solemn procession from the survivor hotels to the Statehouse, led by hundreds of uniformed officers, some on motorcycle and others on horseback. A number of pipebands played as the procession entered the Statehouse grounds. And then, one-by-one, the survivors of those Florida law enforcement officers who had made the ultimate sacrifice filed silently into their seats of honor in the middle of the plaza. Governor Charlie Crist joined us on the dais, along with members of his cabinet and other government and law enforcement leaders.
When I was introduced to address the gathering, I shared a number of stories about some of Florida’s fallen law enforcement heroes. I told them about Charles “Ray” Shinholser, a sergeant with the Jacksonville (FL) Sheriff’s Office. Ray had a talent for music, and a very big heart, so in November 1988, Ray wrote a song entitled “When’s Daddy Coming Home?” as a tribute to a fallen colleague and friend, Gary Bevel. His goal was to sell tapes of the song and raise money to help build the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial that was taking shape at the time in Washington, DC. As fate would have it, though, Ray finished recording the song on December 12, 1988, and then was killed in the line of duty just two days later from injuries suffered in a motorcycle crash.
His family and friends went on to sell 10,000 of the tapes to help build the monument that would bear Ray Shinholser’s name. I talked about Ray’s father, Charles, who is a leader for “C.O.P.S.” (Concerns of Police Survivors) that provides vital support to the survivors of officers who die in the line of duty, carrying on Ray’s devotion to helping others in need. I had the pleasure of visiting with Charles earlier that morning. Even though his son had died more than 20 years ago, he was always there for this special memorial service, just as he would be in Washington, DC for the national remembrance ceremonies there.
I recalled the story of Kimberly Hurd, a six-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol, who had dedicated her life to keeping drunk drivers off the road. During a three-year period beginning in 1989, she had made more than 400 drunk driving arrests. In a terrible irony, Trooper Hurd was struck and killed by a drunk driver while conducting a traffic stop on July 16, 1992. Kimberly Hurd had saved countless lives during her policing career. It was a job that gave her great satisfaction. She knew she was making a difference. She also knew the risks involved and, like so many other courageous men and women who have chosen to wear the badge, she never wavered in her resolve to keep America safe.
I talked about Alex Del Rio, a Hollywood, Florida, police officer, who served with great distinction for nine years. On November 22, 2008, he was killed in a car crash while attempting to stop a speeding motorist. He might have been able to spare his own life, but he took evasive action to avoid hitting another motorist and slammed into a tree. Last year, I had the privilege of meeting his mother, Miriam Hernandez. Miriam has created a foundation in her son’s name to help keep alive his legacy of service to others. The Alex Del Rio Foundation seeks to improve the lives of children in South Florida by teaching our youth that “dreams can come true, that hope, character and hard work can and will result in a better life.”
There are now nearly 19,000 names on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC—730 of them are from the State of Florida. That is the sixth highest total for any state in the country. Jesse Dickson, a Town Marshal with the Gadsden County (FL) Sheriff’s Office, was the first. He was shot and killed on May 21, 1866.
Of the 730 Florida officers who have their names inscribed on the National Memorial, 399 were shot, 184 died in automobile or motorcycle crashes, 47 were struck and killed by vehicles, 42 died from heart attacks and other job-related illnesses, and 58 died from a variety of other causes.
Last year, there were 116 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty nationwide. It was the lowest fatality figure for a single year since 1959—a half a century ago. That is little solace, though, for the families and colleagues of the eight Florida officers who made the supreme sacrifice in 2009. In fact, Texas was the only state last year that had more officer fatalities than Florida.
The names of each of Florida’s 2009 law enforcement fatalities were read aloud near the end of the ceremony as their surviving family members stepped forward to place a flower on a special wreath that had been made for the occasion. Those eight fallen heroes included Scott Bierwiler of the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office; Ronnie Brown of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office; Giovanni Gonzalez of the Miami-Dade Police Department; Burton Lopez and Warren “Skip” York of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office; Mark Parker of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office; Michael Roberts of the Tampa Police Department; and Adam Sanderson of the Florida Department of Corrections.
The names of four officers who had died in earlier years, but were only recently added to the State Memorial were also read. They were Joseph Martyna of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Marc Wilbur of the Avon Park Police Department, who both died in 2008; John Waters of the U.S. Department of Treasury Internal Revenue Service Prohibition Unit, who died in 1922; and Jerome A. Williams of the Florida Department of Corrections, who died in 1995.
I concluded my remarks with some special comments directed at the surviving family members of the officers being honored. I said, “All of these brave heroes of America touched and saved countless lives. All of them contributed mightily to make their communities and their country a better place to live. And, as we honor and remember these brave officers, we also honor and remember their families. Please know that your loved ones will never be forgotten—and neither will you.”