No biography can sum up a person’s life, let alone a few stories, even a person as young as 43, as Sgt. Dominic Guida was when he was felled by a medical episode during training with fellow officers last week. But a couple of stories are at least emblematic of the kind of cop Guida was in his now too-brief career despite his 11 years with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and his last seven with the Bunnell Police Department.
After the service for Guida at First Bunnell Baptist Church today, after the burial casket flag had been tri-cornered 13 times and presented to his sister Andrea Feagle, and after the roar and flashing blue and red of 26 motorcycles from several law enforcement agencies escorted the hearse out of the parking lot and to burial grounds at Craig Flagler Palms, Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson, in an interval between tears, recalled the time a year ago when they drove together to Daytona Beach.
Robinson was attending the graduation ceremony for First Baptist Christian Academy, the school that took up residence in the historic courthouse downtown six years ago. As with other seniors in the county, First Baptist’s seniors were invited to graduate from the tarmac of the Daytona International Speedway. So on they went, Robinson and Guida, driving around the circuit with seniors. The mayor had taken a selfie with the officer. The circuit over, she told him: “Only one thing more could make this perfect.” What’s that? he asked her. “If you let me drive.”
“No way,” Guida told the mayor. “We’d both end up in jail.” No special favors. He stood his ground, no matter who was next to him. “He had the authority,” Robinson said.
Sheriff Rick Staly told the other story, told to him just this morning, during his eulogy at First Baptist Church. “He had to arrest an individual that had an active warrant,” Staly said of Guida. And that individual told a member of the Bunnell community that he had never been arrested by a more compassionate individual police officer before–which also indicates that this individual have a few other experiences to compare it by.”
The congregation laughed. Every pew in the large church was filled, including the mezzanine, including cops lined along the entirety of a side and back wall. Outside before the service the parking lot had been a sea of blue, if differently breaking in the colors of the many agencies there–what looked like the entirety of the Sheriff’s Office, the Bunnell and Flagler Beach police departments, but also detachments from the Sheriff’s Offices in Volusia, Hillsborough (a large platoon of motorcycle cops), Seminole, St. Johns and Polk counties, Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, likely a few others whose patrol vehicles weren’t spotted. Every fire department in the county was there, and Bunnell’s towers, Roger’s Towing and John’s Towing, had sent crane trucks to help hoist the two giant American flags at either ends of the parking lot (John Rogers, the long-time Bunnell city commissioner and a childhood friend of Guida’s, owns John’s Towing.)
The loss of a cop in a small town is like the loss of a child to a crash or a family to a fire: the shock radiates across town whether people knew him or not. In this case it was difficult not to know him. In such a small department, he was 10 percent of the force. He’d graduated Flagler Palm Coast High School in 1997 after a childhood in the Hammock, started as a cop at the Daytona Beach Police Department before his years with the Sheriff’s Office and a couple of years away from law enforcement before returning to the ranks–“his calling,” as Bunnell Police Chief Tom Foster, who hired him in 2016, put it. “Dominic was one of the few who rose above the rest,” Foster said. He’d elevated him to corporal within two years and sergeant two years after that, seeing in him “a true professional and a go-to guy.”
His second calling was working with children. He was a power-lifting coach for the Special Olympics, he was involved in the Police Athletic League, and he was president of the Flagler Fallen Heroes Lodge 165. Foster described him as “a courageous man who was a kind soul and a true gentleman. He was also a jokester who liked to make us laugh.” The story of a very ugly Christmas sweater followed.
With the Flagler Sheriff’s Chief Mark Strobridge as master of ceremonies, songs interspersed tributes–“Weight of the Badge,” the song by George Strait, playing between Foster’s and Staly’s eulogies (“It doesn’t weigh a lot until you put it on/And the weight of it is staggering/Then duty calls each time/He knows he’s got to answer”). Family members did not speak, but one of the more moving moments of the ceremony was Guida’s niece, Chloe Bennett, reading a few lines from Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…”) and nephew Luke Feagle reading three celebrated verses from the Gospel of John: “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
“We miss you Sergeant Guida,” the sheriff had said in his eulogy. “While it will be hard without you, we will carry on your watch as we know St. Michael has new angel watching over and protecting us.” Michael, champion of justice and celebrated for his defeat of evil in Christian iconography, is the patron saint of police officers, the military and mariners, among others. “May God bless you for life well done and hold the Guida family in his hands.”
The family reassembled under the concrete awning outside the church to receive the flag after a salute by guns: his two sisters Andrea and Cassandra, his brother Edward, his fiancee Carlee Crichter, and many others. Then came one of the more difficult parts of a first responder’s funeral service: the End of Watch Call. A dispatcher came on the police radio and called out his badge number, 5111. Once. Silence. Twice. Silence. Three times.
“No response from 5111.”
The dispatcher, her voice breaking, briefly summarized Guida’s life and bid him farewell as helicopters flew overhead. Three took part in the ceremonial fly-over–Flagler County’s, Volusia’s and St. Johns’, with Volusia’s breaking off before they were immediately overhead, symbolizing the missing man.
The dispatcher’s identity was an unspoken backstory: it was Christina Mortimer, director of the sheriff’s 911 center, who is married to Matthew Mortimer, the other sergeant at the Bunnell Police Department. The Mortimers had been Guida’s best friends for 14 years. A lot more than her voice was breaking as she spoke Guida’s End of Watch.
“He was such a big part of our force. Such a big part. We were so blessed that he chose Bunnell,” Robinson said afterward. “He was one of the good guys. He never got hard. He never got cynical. He always saw the good in people. What a life.”