It’s said that J. Edgar Hoover himself traveled from Washington, D.C., to Dade City, to remember prohibition agent John Van Waters.
The 46-year-old U.S. Department of Justice officer was killed alongside Pasco County constable Arthur Crenshaw on Oct. 4, 1922, in an ambush soon after investigating an illegal distillery near Dade City.
They were just the second and third law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty at the time, but would eventually become a part of a list that now totals eight who paid the ultimate price in protecting the people of Pasco County.
And those same people who benefit from that protection refuse to let them be forgotten as the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies celebrated their lives during a memorial service May 2 in front of the Historic Dade City Courthouse.
“It is truly a special day for us,” Sheriff Chris Nocco told the crowd of spectators who stood in a steady downpour to honor the officers. “In a world where so many times we get wrapped up in the petty little things of life, this is a moment that we can reflect upon what is most important.”
Last year, the death toll for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty dropped to its lowest numbers in more than 50 years. And while those are statistics that should be celebrated, Dade City Police Chief Ray Velboom warned that work to protect officers is still needed.
“While this number is gratifying somewhat, one life is still too many,” he said. “We as leaders continue to work hard to provide our officers with the awareness and training they need to confront the many dangers they are facing. We must strive to create a new culture of safety in law enforcement that addresses the elements of our job that we can control, such as driving habits.”
Two of Pasco’s deaths were from automobile accidents, including the most recent, Hernando County Sheriff’s deputy John Mecklenburg, who was killed during a high-speed chase on U.S. 41 in 2011 that crossed into Pasco County.
Pasco County Sheriff’s deputy John McCabe also died on U.S. 41, but in 1948, while responding to a call about stolen grove heaters.
“On this day, let us remember these men not by how they died, but how they walked among us, and whose lives they enriched in a thousand ways by their very existence,” said U.S. Circuit Court judge William Burgess III, after reading the roll call of the fallen officers.
Those officers honored also included Lt. Charles “Bo” Harrison, who was killed June 1, 2003, while doing surveillance near a Dade City nightclub. A sniper, whose only goal reportedly was to shoot a police officer, hid in the nearby woods, and shot Harrison in the back. Harrison, who was 56, was just 15 days away from retirement after 31 years of service.
Also remembered was a member of the Florida Highway Patrol, Trooper James Bradford-Jean Crooks, who was just 23 in May 1998 when he was slain by a man who had earlier killed two Tampa Police Department officers and a young boy. Brad Crooks, as he was known by, never had a chance to get out of his car, was shot and killed on the off-ramp of Interstate 75 into Wesley Chapel.
And then there was the first officer ever killed in Pasco in the line of duty. Sheldon Nicks was working with his father, Fivay town marshal H. Robert Nicks, to serve a warrant. When the man they were serving realized he was being arrested, he pulled a gun. The younger Nicks jumped in front of the bullet, saving his father, but died on May 8, 1909.
“None of whom we honor today can be defined by their deaths,” Florida Highway Patrol Capt. Kristina Quenneville said. “But by what is forever imprinted on the lives and hearts of those they have touched.”
Published May 7, 2014