tampabay.com

County honors fallen law officers

Pasco inaugurates an event that draws relatives and law enforcement officers from across the state.

By JAMAL THALJI
Published June 3, 2005


DADE CITY - The five men honored on the steps of the Historic Pasco County Courthouse belong to an exclusive, and solemn, fraternity:

All were law officers.

All were killed in the line of duty.

Federal agent John Waters and Constable Fleece Crenshaw were ambushed by bootleggers in 1922. Sheriff's Deputy Bert McCabe died in a 1948 auto accident. Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James "Brad" Crooks was gunned down in 1998. A sniper killed sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison in 2003.

And they should be remembered for much more than that, Pasco Sheriff Bob White said.

"It's important that we recognize their duty to their community and the honor they brought to their badge and to their profession," White said at the ceremony Wednesday evening. "But it's equally important that we remember their lives out of work and off duty as well.

"They were sons before they were policemen, and along the way they became brothers and uncles and close friends. For some of them the biggest pride wasn't in a salute from a colleague, but the hug of a child who called him dad.

"Today we honor those parents, siblings, spouses and children who lost more than we did in the deaths of these officers."

Pasco County's law enforcement officers memorial drew surviving relatives, residents and uniforms from across the county and state to what will be an annual event.

It's an event that's long overdue, one survivor said. Crenshaw and McCabe waited decades to be honored.

"I just thought it was about time after 57 years," said McCabe's 78-year-old widow, Audrey.

The bosses of all of Pasco County's law enforcement agencies were there: White, Dade City police Chief Phil Thompson, New Port Richey police Chief Martin Rickus, Port Richey police Chief Bill Sager and Zephyrhills police Chief Russell Barnes.

Representing their fallen officers was Maj. Thomas Knight of the Florida Highway Patrol and Special Agent Ralph Ostrowski of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Many of them spoke at the ceremony.

Knight remembered the day Crooks died. Hank Earl Carr already had killed a 4-year-old boy and two Tampa detectives, Knight recalled, when "the shock waves reached north to Pasco County."

Carr fled to Land O'Lakes, and during the pursuit Crooks became the 38th state trooper to die in the line of duty. That number now stands at 40.

"This memorial stands as a reminder to the families that they did not die in vain," Knight said.

The Pasco sheriff's honor guard brought out a wreath in the shape of the county and laid it before the courthouse steps. Every 15 minutes officers from county, state and federal agencies took turns standing watch over it. Then came the speeches.

The top brass lit glow sticks in honor of the fallen.

Sheriff's Cpl. Angelo Musicaro, an ordained minister, spoke. Corrections Deputy April Ochsenfeld sang.

At 7:45 p.m., a sheriff's dispatcher ordered radio silence in honor of the fallen officers.

The sheriff's honor guard, bearing shotguns, fired a three-volley salute.

Deputy Jason Marques played taps on the bugle.

Sgt. Roger Mills led the traditional riderless horse, boots reversed in the stirrups.

James MacDonald played the bagpipes.

"I do pretty good until I hear that set of bagpipes," said New Port Richey police Capt. Daryl Garman, showing the tissue in his pocket.

The ceremony fell on the second anniversary of Harrison's death.

"I kind of anticipated it, kind of wanted the day to come and be over with," said his oldest daughter, Sandy, 32. "But it was very nice and nice to remember other officers as well."

Time hasn't healed her family, she said.

"Just the day being what it is doesn't make it any harder," she said. "I mean, every day we struggle with this. Not a day goes by that someone isn't crying from the kids right on up to the adults.

"There's no easy day."

In his remarks, New Port Richey's police chief mentioned Lonnie Coburn, the only Hernando County sheriff's deputy killed in the line of duty. Coburn was shot in 1978 while battling two men who robbed a store and raped and killed a pregnant woman.

Coburn was a cousin of Garman's, now a New Port Richey captain.

"When Lonnie was killed just up the road here," Garman said, "a lot of first responders who came out to that scene were from Dade City and Pasco County.

"I really do appreciate the chief saying a few words about him."

McCabe died when a Tampa truck northbound on U.S. 41 struck the deputy's car head-on, according to a 1948 Tampa Tribune article, throwing the deputy 25 feet, crushing his chest, fracturing his skull.

"Things were a lot different in those days," his widow said. "The doctor wouldn't leave the golf course. They told him it was an emergency. He came in, took one look at him and said there's nothing I can do and walked out.

"He died a little while later. I stayed with him and watched him die."

She showed Sheriff White her wedding album and remembered McCabe as "a good sport and a fine fellow."

And she kept the name.

"I married his brother," she said.