Last Updated: 9:36 p.m.
Sgt. Dominic Guida of the Bunnell Police Department was rushed to AdventHealth Palm Coast this afternoon after suffering a cardiac event while in training with Flagler County sheriff’s deputies at the county’s training facility and burn tower on Justice Lane in Bunnell. He died at the hospital less than 90 minutes after the initial heart attack.
“They were in training, I don’t know the details, something about a heart attack, possible heart attack,” City Manager Alvin Jackson said as he was himself rushing to the hospital. A witness described an ambulance screaming down State Road 100 just before 4:30 p.m. toward the hospital, followed by some nine law enforcement vehicles.
“Dominic was a great officer, and an even better human being, and we are all suffering the loss of Sgt. Guida,” Bunnell Police Chief Tom Foster said this evening as he was driving to the hospital. “We are deeply saddened by his passing.” Guida was 43.
Robinson, along with Bunnell Commissioners Tonya Gordon and Robert Barnes, were at AdventHealth when they learned of Guida’s death.
The medical episode began shortly after 4 p.m. as Guida was in the fire tower. CPR was administered several times and he was rushed to AdventHealth.
At 5:26 p.m., Sheriff Rick Staly issued a department-wide email, as he always does when a fellow-law enforcement officer dies in the line of duty anywhere in Florida: “I am extremely saddened to advise you of the passing of Bunnell Police Department Sgt. Dominic Guida today about 5:00pm,” the sheriff wrote. “Sgt. Guida was participating ERT’s multi-agency field force training on Justice Lane when it is believed he suffered a medical event. Deputies, officers and paramedics along with AdventHealth ER staff valiantly tried to save his life but God called him home.”
Staly recalled Guida’s service with the Sheriff’s Office “before leaving law enforcement, later returning to his law enforcement calling with the Bunnell Police Department. This loss hits our local law enforcement family hard. Please support and be there for each other during this difficult time.”
Guida is the first Bunnell Police Department officer to die in the line of duty in the city’s history. He is the second law enforcement officer in Flagler County to die in the line of duty in less than three months. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Paul Luciano, a corrections deputy, died in late August from covid complications.
At AdventHealth, Chief Operating Officer Wally de Aquino personally took charge of accommodating what had turned into a momentous gathering of local officials and law enforcement, with patrol cars filling the parking lot and the vigil spilling largely around the ambulance bay on the Emergency Department side of the hospital. De Aquino made the hospital’s community room available for a critical incident stress debriefing involving all the personnel that had been at the training site at the time of Guida’s episode. The debriefing is a counseling-type approach that helps personnel cope with the tragedy. It involved members of the sheriff’s dispatch center, who handled the call, paramedics, and Bunnell police–some 40 people in all.
The mood on the grounds of the hospital was somber and sad, and paradoxically, it radiated with Guida’s effect on a huge part of Flagler’s law enforcement community over the years, and beyond that community: his death almost immediately touched off reactions across the county that marked the extent to which he’d moved lives and imprinted memories in people far afield from law enforcement. Some of Guida’s family members were there, as was his girlfriend.
It would fall on the sheriff to tell Foster that his officer had passed, when Foster arrived at the hospital.
Around 9 p.m., an enormous procession set out from the hospital to escort Guida’s body to the medical examiner’s office in St. Augustine. “I can tell you looking in my rearview mirror right now, this procession is well over a mile long,” Staly said when he was reached at one point during the drive, with some 50 law enforcement units, lights flashing, driving first through back roads, the north on U.S. 1, where they were either joined or getting assistance from the Florida Highway Patrol and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office’s motorcycle squad.
“This is tradition in a line of duty deaths, and Dominic certainly deserves all of that,” Staly said. “So we’ve offered our full assistance to Chief Foster and the Bunnell Police Department and we will probably be handling some of the calls for the city of Bunnell Police Department while they support their community and our brothers and sisters at Bunnell PD.” The Sheriff’s Office will be working in the background to help coordinate the city’s needs.
Guida had been with the Bunnell Police Department since 2016. Foster promoted him to sergeant in February 2016, alongside Senior Officer Sgt. Matt Mortimer. Guida had served as a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy for 12 years before joining the city department, and had been a K-9 officer. He was also president of the Flagler Fallen Heroes Lodge 165, and was the signer of that organization’s letter when it endorsed Sheriff Rick Staly in Staly’s re-election campaign in 2020.
“I am devastated,” Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson said, “and this is such a tragedy for the community, Bunnell and myself. He was one of the good guys and my heart is broken. What a huge loss.”
“Sgt. Guida was a great officer,” Gordon, a city commissioner who’s been especially focused on championing the police department, said. “He was a people person and was loved by everyone he met. He was a loyal, honorable man that you could always count on when needed and always make you laugh. This truly breaks my heart for his family, his blue family, friends and the City of Bunnell. It’s really a devastating loss for the City.”
City Commissioner John Rogers was in Daytona when he got a “911” text from Jackson, was also rushing to the hospital as, it seemed, innumerable others from around the county. Bunnell counts about a dozen officers.
Rogers had known Guida since they were teen-agers. “I could bring you back to the days when they had Twin Oaks Restaurant and Pizzeria in the Hammock, when I was a teenager and we used to go up there every Friday night and hang out,” Rogers said of Guida and his family. Guida’s grandfather owned the pizzeria before it was acquired by what became Sea Colony. “He was just a little kid. I’ve known him all his life.”
Rogers and Guida shared a Connecticut ancestry in common. Guida’s grandfather would show them how to make pizzas. Guida’s family extends to the judiciary and Charles Ceno, His brother Charles Cino, the attorney for Bunnell’s planning board and a hearing officer in Daytona Beach.
Guida grew up locally and was an alumni of Flagler Palm Coast High School. “He’s a great guy. He just has a great temperament, just a great attitude,” Rogers said. “His family is a great family, he’s an awesome guy. Ive never seen him in a bad mood, he’s always happy go lucky. He’s in our thoughts and prayers. We’re praying for him right now.”
Shortly before his resignation from the Sheriff’s Office in December 2014, Guida was the organizer of a Tip-a-Cop event at Bob Evans in Palm Coast, to benefit the Special Olympics Torch Run that was due to go through the city that April. It was one of his special callings: he was a power-lifting coach for Special Olympics athletes, and had been working with children through the Special Olympics for about five years by that point. Naturally, at such events as the sheriff’s annual Flagler Night Out, when law enforcement showcases its services and wares, Guida was there, with his K-9, always a hit with children.
He resigned in 2014 soon after the death of his father, which hit him hard. He felt he had to seek a new career, and for about two years he was in the trucking industry out of state. But he couldn’t stay away. “Over the years as so many cops do, they come back because the calling to help the community is that strong,” Staly said, calling Guida “definitely a role model, what law enforcement should aspirate to be.”
In 2017, Foster in his report to the commission noted that Guida “participated in the second meeting of ‘at risk’ youth and pastors to discuss current issues in policing, while enjoying a slice of pizza.”
“This guy is amazing! A big heart and always looking to help out in our community,” Kerri Anderson had written in response to an image Bunnell government had posted on its Facebook page in 2018, showing Guida with three children and his police cruiser, after he participated in that year’s Back to School Bash at Bunnell’s Carver Center.
And over the years he was there, of course, with his K-9, tracking down suspects and apprehending them.
“This is all very numbing time and hard to believe we lost him so fast,” Jackson said later this evening in a statement issued by the city. “He was truly a kind, humble, fun loving and lively Police Sergeant. There will be a great hole in our City and Police Department. My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Dominic, our Police Chief and our officers.”
In his email to the Sheriff’s staff, Staly wrote: “I have spoken with Chief Foster and extended our heartfelt sympathy and condolences and have offered him the full support of FCSO during this tragic time. All sworn personnel should wear their mourning bands over their badge and Agency flags are to be lowered to half-mast until further notice. At this time there is no further information.”