If all goes according to organizers’ desires, Pasco County will join the state’s 66 other counties and will establish a permanent memorial for law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.
Those behind the effort hope the memorial will be ready for use next year, during the Pasco County ceremony held annually to honor members of the law enforcement community who began their shift, like any other day, but never made it home.
Craig Laporte, a Port Richey attorney, is one of the key players working to establish the memorial.
The initiative was launched in 2014 by some members of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge in Land O’ Lakes, Laporte said.
They created the Pasco County Fallen Law Enforcement Officers Memorial & Benefit Foundation Inc., Laporte said. In addition to the goal of creating a memorial, the foundation also seeks to help families of fallen law enforcement officers, or officers severely injured on duty.
“Coincidentally, at about the same time, my wife Arndrea and I decided that we wanted to do something to thank the families of law enforcement officers for what they go through on a daily basis,” said Laporte, who was a Pasco deputy before getting his law degree.
He and his wife saw firsthand the unpredictable nature of the work, and the sacrifices made by officers and their families, Laporte said.
They decided to organize a Family Fun Day to give law enforcement personnel and their families a chance to gather together to have a good time. The day includes a meal, and fun activities for kids and adults.
Area businesses and organizations help to pay for the festivities.
The first year, the Family Fun Day drew about 250 people; this year, there were 750, representing 17 agencies, Laporte said.
After paying the expenses the first year, there was $5,000 left over that was donated to the memorial fund, Laporte said. This past year, $14,000 was donated, said Laporte, who also became involved with the memorial foundation’s board.
Originally, the FOP wanted to have the memorial at their private lodge site in Land O’ Lakes, but they agreed to change the location to erect the memorial in a public setting.
The Pasco County Commission also approved a request to locate the memorial at the northwest corner of the grounds of the Historic Pasco County Courthouse in Dade City.
The historic courthouse is the same place where the annual Fallen Law Enforcement Officer Memorial events have been held, according to accounts published in The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Bay Times.
Those events have been solemn affairs, sometimes attended by hundreds of people, according to published reports. They’ve been marked with the pageantry of law enforcement — a riderless horse, two boots sitting backward in the stirrups, escorted across the courtyard; a bagpiper playing “Going Home;” a bugler playing “Taps;” and words of consolation, and appreciation, for lives cut short too soon.
Next year, organizers hope the event will be held at the permanent memorial.
The memorial was designed free of charge by Ardurra, formerly known as King Engineering Associates Inc., of Tampa, Laporte said.
Clark Lohmiller, Planning and Landscape Group Leader for Ardurra, has been involved in the design since Day 1. He decided to contribute his skills after being approached by Terry Edmonson, of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, who had an obvious passion for the project.
Lohmiller said Jason Marques of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office also has been involved, and that John Galbavy and Kevin Velinsky, also from Ardurra, have lent their expertise on the project.
The memorial’s design was influenced by one in Texas, which features a sculpture of an angel carrying a fallen officer up to heaven at the center of it, Lohmiller said.
Laporte said Brodin Studio in Minnesota is creating the sculpture for the Pasco memorial.
He also described what the public can expect to see.
“It’s going to be designed really spectacularly,” he said. “It’ll be a black stone base down on the ground. And, it’ll be narrower than this, but it will be a thin blue line of glass block that’s illuminated from underneath, so at night, it will be an illuminated thin blue line.
“Then, the statue also will be illuminated, with LED lighting, and the names of the fallen officers will be around the pedestal,” Laporte said.
“Hopefully, it will be well-received and something that showcases the support that Pasco County has — and the community wants to have — for the fallen officers, and just the officers in general. I’m honored to be a part of it,” Lohmiller said.
LaPorte said his law partner, Frances Werner-Watkins, has a personal interest in the memorial. She is related to Sheldon Nicks and William O’ Berry, two of the fallen officers honored each year.
Efforts continue to raise the money needed to complete the project, Laporte said.
So far, about $220,000 of the $300,000 needed has been raised. Anyone who would like to make a donation, or contribute in other ways, can reach out to Laporte at (800) 273-8303.
Killed in the line of duty
- Pasco deputy Sheldon S. Nicks, May 8, 1909: Died after jumping in front of a bullet, shot by an escaped convict. The bullet was intended for Nicks’ father, Henry Robert Nicks, the Fivay town marshal.
- U.S. prohibition agent John Van Waters, Oct. 4, 1922: Gunned down in an ambush by bootleggers
- Constable Arthur Crenshaw, Oct. 4, 1922: Gunned down in an ambush by bootleggers
- Pasco deputy William O’ Berry, Jan. 1, 1926: Shot in the neck in Hernando County while trying to arrest a suspect
- Pasco deputy John McCabe, June 26, 1948: Died when a truck heading north on U.S. 41 struck his car head on
- Florida Highway Patrol trooper James Crook, May 19, 1998: Shot and killed while attempting to stop a suspect who had killed a young boy and two Tampa police detectives
- Pasco Lt. Charles Bo Harrison, June 1, 2003: Killed by a sniper while sitting in his patrol car, just weeks before his retirement. He was promoted posthumously to captain.
- Hernando deputy John Mecklenburg, July 3, 2011: Lost control of his vehicle on U.S. 41 and crashed during a high-speed chase that led authorities through Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas counties.
Sources: Published reports in The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Bay Times
Published August 07, 2019