2 given memorial scholarships in honor of fallen Clay County deputy

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – Two cadets were presented with scholarships to the St. Johns River State College Law Enforcement Academy in a ceremony at the Clay County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday.

Robert "Cody" Mathews and Stacci Sastre are starting the police academy this summer. Each received more than $3,000 to cover the cost of the academy, uniforms, books and supplies.

"It really is a dream come true and a blessing from above," Mathews said. "It's something I've been dreaming of, becoming a law enforcement (officer), and this was the blessing I needed that allowed me to reach my goals."

Jennifer White (center) presented police academy scholarships to Robert "Cody" Mathews (second from left) and Stacci Sastre (second from right) at the Clay County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday. The scholarships are named for White's husband, Det. Dave White, who was killed in the line of duty.

This is the second year the scholarships, named for Det. Dave White, were awarded. They are funded through the CCSO and through White Memorial Foundation events.

Dave White, a military veteran, was shot and killed during a raid of a suspected meth lab in Middleburg in February 2012. He was 35.

"It honors Dave's legacy in a sense, because he was the model deputy," said CCSO Lt. Shawn Gordon, who's a member of the scholarship board. "That's what we kind of look for when we are considering applicants. We look for people that have traits like Dave's."

Gordon said the application process includes an essay on why the applicant wants a career in law enforcement, and also an interview with the committee.

Jennifer White, Dave White's widow, said the selection committee could not choose between Mathews and Sastre this year and elected to award two scholarships. She said the CCSO stepped in and contributed the cost of one scholarship to help cover the extra expense.

Mathews, a Clay County native and Middleburg High School graduate, said Dave White's death really hit home for him.

"He passed away 2 miles from my house," Mathews said.

Sastre, who has a degree in criminology, said she's thrilled about the opportunity to pursue a career in law enforcement but that earning the scholarship had a bittersweet aspect for her.

"I almost feel bad to benefit in any way from the loss of someone that so many people loved," Sastre said. "But at the same time, I'm really honored to have the opportunity to carry his name and his legacy, and I hope to make him and her (Jennifer White) and everyone here proud.

"It's my intention to continue to bring honor to his name," she said, "and to do the best I can to live up to the kind of officer he was."