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Community rallies behind Nassau County sergeant battling illness

Sergeant fighting for his life after showing signs of respiratory syndrome

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – Everywhere you turn in Fernandina Beach, there are signs of hope -- all posted to show support for a special Nassau County sergeant.

Sgt. Billy O’Leary is fighting for his life in a local intensive care unit after showing signs and symptoms of acute respiratory distress syndrome, also known as ARDS.

Marquees at the local high school, bank and diner wish O’Leary well and offer prayers, and signs posted at local business say “We love you!”

The Nassau County community is rallying behind Sgt. Billy O'Leary who is battling an illness.
The Nassau County community is rallying behind Sgt. Billy O'Leary who is battling an illness. (WJXT)

Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said O’Leary, a 25-year veteran of the local force, is a vital part of the Sheriff’s Office and his presence is missed at the agency and throughout the community.

“He went into the Marine Corps after high school. Then he worked for the Fernandina Beach Police Department for a short period of time,” said Leeper, who has known O’Leary his entire life. “I coached him in his senior league baseball when he was a kid in Fernandina Beach."

O’Leary is currently a sergeant in the special operations unit and oversees the crime intervention unit, traffic unit, school resource officers and K-9 unit.

“He’s involved with a lot,” Leeper said.

About a month ago, O’Leary came down with a cold and started showing flu-like symptoms, before being hospitalized, Leeper explained.

“He has had trouble breathing. It’s gone into his lungs," Leeper said. "He’s had a hard time over the last few weeks.”

The Nassau County community is rallying behind Sgt. Billy O'Leary who is battling an illness.
The Nassau County community is rallying behind Sgt. Billy O'Leary who is battling an illness. (WJXT)

The get well signs around town include a message about ARDS, “We’re fighting for every breath."

“It’s very serious, and we’re praying for him. Everyone is concerned about him. Our entire community is concerned and has reached out, wishing him well," Leeper said. "As the leader of this organization, it makes me proud that our community is reaching out to our agency, to Billy, wishing him well, praying for him to recover and to get back to work.”

A fund to help offset medical expenses has been setup. To donate, go to First Federal Bank, 1891 South 14th St., Fernandina Beach, Florida 32034. Donations can be made out to Billy O’Leary Donation Fund or to his daughter, Caitlyn O’Leary Lee.


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