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Hundreds mourn fallen officer, wife

The funeral included a 21-gun salute and a ceremonial ''out-of-service'' call broadcast over the police radio system.

photo
[Times photo: Douglas Clifford]
Nancy Hillis clutches a flag presented to her by the chief of police during the funeral of her son Harvey "Butch" Hillis while her other son, Ronnie Hillis, comforts her.
By BRADY DENNIS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 14, 2001


ZEPHYRHILLS -- A lone bagpipe pierced the silence as Zephyrhills Police Chief Robert Howell handed flags to relatives of detective Harvey "Butch" Hillis Jr. and his wife, Donna.

The couple died together Saturday morning in a hit-and-run accident on Chancey Road.

On Wednesday, about 500 people, including numerous law enforcement officials, crowded into St. Joseph's Catholic Church on Fifth Avenue to mourn.

Sunlight washed through the spectrum of stained glass and into the dim sanctuary, where the couple's blue coffins sat side by side.

A pair of police officers stood guard throughout the ceremony at Butch Hillis' coffin, which was draped with an American flag.

Flowers surrounded Donna Hillis' coffin. On a nearby pedestal sat a framed picture of her with the couple's 3-year-old daughter, Jolynn.

In the pews, uniformed police officers cried openly. Family members clung tightly to one another.

"The question today is, 'Why?"' said the Rev. Buddy Hollyfield.

"Why do good people die? Why do innocent people suffer? Sometimes there are questions that will never be answered. I don't know why these kinds of things happen."

Hillis, a 13-year veteran of the police department, was 46. Donna Hillis was 33.

The couple's 3-year-old daughter did not attend Wednesday's service. Butch Hillis' two daughters from a previous marriage were present.

Friends and co-workers remembered Hillis as a hardworking detective who loved his job.

"He had a fire in his gut; he just lived police work," said Capt. Richard Scudder. "He always went above and beyond and really proved himself."

Relatives remembered Donna Hillis as a loving mother who enjoyed life despite her constant struggle with diabetes.

"She was always happy and a joy to be around," her brother Tom DeLoreto said after the ceremony. "This has been hell. I wouldn't wish it on anyone."

After the service, law enforcement officers, each wearing black bands over their badges, stood at attention and lined the walkway to the church.

As Butch Hillis' coffin was carried from the church, a veterans squad fired a 21-gun salute.

A dispatcher called Hillis' number over the police radio three times, which was piped through a speaker outside. When no response came, the dispatcher declared "10-7 for eternity." The code 10-7 is police lingo for out of service.

The couple's bodies were loaded into two white hearses. They were taken back to Whitfield's Funeral Home, where each will be cremated.

"There's not a law enforcement officer who falls that we don't feel," said Pasco Sheriff Bob White, who two weeks ago lost 22-year-old deputy Verle Lloyd Johnson in another wreck.

"He was such a talented man," White said of Hillis. "It's such a waste. And the families suffer along with the law enforcement officer. I'm just wondering how to keep them safe."

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