Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming capped his brief speech at this morning’s annual memorial ceremony for fallen officers in Bunnell with a few numbers from the FBI: So far this year, 13 officers have been killed in the line of duty. Four were killed while attempting to arrest others. Three were killed during traffic pursuits. Two were ambushed and killed. Two were killed when responding to robberies. One was killed while responding to a domestic disturbance. One was killed during a tactical operation. The murder weapons: eight handguns and five rifles.
Fleming read those numbers as Linda Haywood and Sophia and Al Antonio listened on, a few feet away, a yellow rose in their hand symbolizing their loss: Haywood’s husband Darryl, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, was killed during a chase on I-4 on Oct. 2, 2004. He had been on the job almost 25 years, 20 of them as a New York City police officer and detective. He was 49 and had two children. The Antonios’ son-in-law, Chuck Sease, was attempting to deploy stop sticks when his killer’s car struck him on an I-95 exit ramp in Flagler. Sease, 35, had been on the job just two months after five years as a police officer in Connecticut.
Listen to Sheriff Don Fleming’s Remarks[media id=25 width=250 height=100]
The annual ceremony at the Sheriff’s operations center was 20 minutes of solemn moments, a wreath-laying at a memorial for local fallen officers, and the annual roll-call of the fallen: Sheriff Perry Hall, killed on Aug. 21, 1927; Deputy Gregory Durrance, killed on Aug. 25, 1927, and Sease and Haywood. With every name, an officer walked to the memorial, kneeled, and placed a yellow rose on the pedestal. Sheriff’s Cpl. Michael Fink grazed Sease’s engraved name with his hand in a brief, touching gesture. (See a photo gallery of the ceremony here.)
“It’s an opportunity for us not only to remember these men and women every day of our lives, but it’s an opportunity for us to celebrate their life as well as their death in law enforcement, to honor a special day that is law enforcement week throughout the United States, ” Fleming said. “It’s a time for sadness, and it’s also a time for remembering. These men and women do their job every day out there, they go to work every day, and put their lives on the line every day.”
Fleming devoted the bulk of his remarks to a letter he received from the late Grady Prather, who retired as a captain from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office after serving longer than anyone in the department, and died last November. “It kind of tells the story about a law enforcement officer in this world today,” Fleming said. The letter read, in part:
Some of you go to work in a suit and tie, carry a briefcase. They go to work with a bullet-proof vest, pepper spray and Glock strapped to their vest. Some of you work at a desk with a nice comfortable chair and a window view. Their office is four wheels, four doors, lights and sirens. Police officers are human just like the rest of us. They have families to come home to, and children waiting for them at the door. When the weather is awful and you have the comforts of the indoors, they are out there protecting others’ lives, and helping whoever is in need, putting their own safety at risk, in the rain, or the sleet, even hurricanes. They are there when tragedy strikes. They are there to comfort you or your child. They are the ones who make sure that you’re safe on your way to work or on your vacation. There are some officers who make the ultimate sacrifice. They risk it all to save another, or a fellow officer down. ‘Officer needs help’ are words that can change lives for ever.
Korean War veteran Bill Perry played Taps, and William Byrne played the bagpipe at the end of the ceremony.
Listen to the Complete Ceremony, Taps and Bag Pipes Included (18 mn)[media id=26 width=250 height=100]
Before he was done, Fleming acknowledged by name several bigwigs in the audience, some of whom happen to be running for reelection, though the people who mattered most Thursday morning weren’t commissioners or council members or mayors, who never miss an occasion to be seen, but the deputies and officers lined up at attention behind them and in front of them, their names never mentioned and their deeds rarely recognized except on occasions like these. The occasion was framed by the simple yellow-rose wreath honoring those of their fellow-officers who were denied the chance, and the right, to make it this far.