Thousands bid trooper an emotional goodbye
By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 1998
LEWISTON -- It wasn't the stage filled with flowers, the eulogy or the sight of the flag-draped coffin that unleashed the grief that smoldered silently through the funeral of James B. Crooks on Friday.
A dispatcher's voice came over a loudspeaker and called the trooper's name and ID tag -- "Brooksville No. 1777" -- followed by a pause, then another code: "10-7."
Trooper James B. Crooks is "out of service," the voice said.
In an instant, the trooper's family convulsed in sobs, and scattered cries went up from the huge gathering of friends, dignitaries and uniformed officers.
"I kept it in, but when I heard that, it hit me like a brick wall," said Scott Smith, 23, who knew Crooks since childhood. "It puts a cap on everything. It sums up the meaning of his death. He's not serving anymore."
Authorities said between 2,000 and 3,000 people attended the service for the 23-year-old trooper killed Tuesday in Hank Earl Carr's three-county rampage -- a day of violence that also left two veteran Tampa police detectives dead. The funeral was held at the town's largest indoor auditorium because no church was expected to fit the mourners. But even here, there wasn't nearly enough room.
On the lawn outside the auditorium, row after row of uniformed officers from across the country stood throughout the service.
Inside the un-airconditioned auditorium, heated by a blazing sun, hundreds more filled metal folding chairs as the Rev. Harold Taylor gave the eulogy and George Ganglfinger -- the band director at Clewiston High School -- sang The Impossible Dream on a raised, flower-crowded stage.
Dozens of other police crowded the side aisles and lobby. As they lowered their heads to pray, sweat stood out on their foreheads and necks. Highway patrol troopers fanned themselves with tasseled, flat-brimmed hats, the kind James Crooks wore for less than a year.
They came from as far away as California and Massachusetts, wearing their Class A garb. They came in shiny boots and long sleeves, with black bands across their badges. The Gainesville police came in dark berets and yellow ascots, the Port Richey police in baby blue tops. Brooksville police came in dark blues, Hendry County sheriff's deputies in deep greens.
None of the departments wore exactly the same uniform, but their members moved with the same slow, deliberate stride to and from the auditorium.
And when asked about Crooks -- known as Brad to family and friends -- they sounded a lot alike.
"It's like a part of me has passed away," said Trooper Charles Hathcox, who was in the same recruit class as Crooks. "He overcame a lot to achieve his goals."
"It hurts," said highway patrol Lt. James Richburg, who supervised Crooks in Land O'Lakes. He stood looking at the grass before a host of reporters. "I can't put it in words how it feels."
Maj. Rick Gregory, who supervised Crooks at the training academy, said he watched the overweight trainee fight to strip off the pounds and make the grade. His tenacity -- and his desire to serve -- pulled him through.
"I said, "Maybe this isn't for you,' " Gregory said. "He said, "It is for me. I'm not leaving.' "
During the service, Col. Charles Hall, the state director of the highway patrol, praised Crooks' "drive, desire and determination." He said being a trooper meant Crooks got to live his dream -- even if only a short time.
"Instead of succumbing to his physical limits and fatigue, he pushed on and on," Hall said. "Brad got to live his dream."
After the service, which lasted about an hour, the coffin was wheeled out, and troopers folded the flag that draped it and presented it to Crooks' parents. Helicopters from 11 different agencies passed overhead. And four horses -- the lead horse without a rider -- led the hearse away.
Gov. Lawton Chiles was on vacation and did not attend the funeral. Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay did attend. He said if any good comes of the tragedy it would be a deeper appreciation of the risks law enforcement officers face. "It was a beautiful ceremony," he said.
Tampa Mayor Dick Greco wore a black ribbon on a gray suit. He said he invited the Crooks family to the funeral today for slain Tampa detectives Rick Childers and Randy Bell, but they declined.
"All these folks have had a rough week," he said. "They felt that today was about all they could stand. But they asked that we remember them."
Pasco Sheriff Lee Cannon knew the slain detectives but not the trooper. Still, he said, "He was a fellow law enforcement officer, and that means an awful lot."
Unlike most others Friday, Cannon spoke of the killer, Hank Carr, who took his life as SWAT troops stormed the gas station in Hernando County where he was holed up.
"He was a coward, and he went out like a coward," Cannon said. "He killed himself. And I don't have a lot of remorse for his death. I'm sure God loved him, but that's about the only person that did."
Watching the crowd thin in the late afternoon, and squad car after squad car file slowly down the narrow lane away from the auditorium, Pasco sheriff's Maj. Paul Veslock summed up what many felt:
"They did right by their man today."