Flagler County Sheriff’s Correction Deputy Paul Luciano was 60. Volusia County Circuit Judge Steven Henderson was 49. Both were still in their prime, at work as professionals and at home as family men. Neither fit the profile of Covid casualties, at least not of previous covid waves. Henderson died of the disease on Thursday at a hospital in Volusia County. Luciano died the same day at AdventHealth Palm Coast.
Sheriff Rick Staly had spoken to Luciano several days ago. He couldn’t go in to see him in person, but they spoke by phone. “I said keep up the fight,” Staly said. “He said, ‘I am fighting, Sheriff, but it is in God’s hands.’ Then he was put on a ventilator and I couldn’t talk to him anymore.”
For weeks Staly had been emailing his staff across the agency every time a fellow-cop would die of Covid. “Across the state of Florida it’s probably almost one a day of law enforcement officers that are dying from complications of Covid,” he said Friday morning on WNZF, before learning of Luciano’s death. “I can’t tell you how many notifications to our team that we have put out.” He’d been writing them himself, as he always has when an officer dies in the line of duty, and urging his team–an often-reluctant team–every time to get vaccinated. He was already planning to attend an officer’s funeral in St. Johns County on Saturday–Jody Hull, a school resource deputy who’d worked at the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office for four years. It’s another Covid death.
Luciano became the first line-of-duty death at the Sheriff’s Office since the death of Sgt. Frank Celico 10 years ago.
“It’s a tough day for our agency, it’s a tough day for deputy Luciano’s family,” Staly said. “It was something as as sheriff I hoped I’d never never lose a deputy in the line of duty, and unfortunately that occurred today.”
The deputy’s death has cast a pall over an agency hard hit by the delta variant, with numerous staffers out or helping family members through their quarantines and two more deputies in the hospital, one at AdventHealth and one at Halifax in Daytona Beach.
Luciano had started his law enforcement career in 1996 with the Bunnell Police Department, according to a sheriff’s release, later joining the state Department of Corrections in Volusia County, from where he retired, before joining the Flagler Sheriff’s Office in 2019. He worked at the county jail, where “he was always very conscientious and concerned about the well being of the inmates,” Staly said.
Luciano lived in Flagler with his wife Carrie and spoke with pride of his children. “The Lord has blessed me and my wife Carrie in many ways but there’s nothing more wonderful than watching your children grow into good people,” he’d written in June. (Henderson, for his part, was the father of six.)
In a sign tragically emblematic of the times, Luciano’s body was to be taken to a funeral home in Volusia County for now, only because Flagler’s funeral homes are at capacity because of the number of people who have died from the disease in the last few weeks–42 in four weeks. The Sheriff’s Office is escorting the body at 3:45 p.m. in coordination with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and Daytona Beach police, and a detail will stand honor by the body around the clock until his funeral services are completed, the sheriff said. Those services have not been set yet.
The family was too distraught today to take that step, but the Sheriff’s Office will be assisting. Staly says he expects there will be some form of ceremonial funeral in Flagler in coming days. The agency’s flags will be at half mast for 14 days in recognition of the line-of-duty death.
Just as a deputy’s death resonates across the law enforcement community, a judge’s death resonates equally across the circuit: Volusia is part of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, which includes Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam counties. The county and circuit judges in the circuit are a unique siblinghood. Steven Henderson was one of just 27 circuit judges, who could theoretically sit anywhere in the district, though he was assigned to family court. He’d been a prosecutor in the Seventh Judicial Circuit for seven years before winning an appointment to the bench as a county judge in 2012, then as a circuit judge in 2018.