Hundreds say farewell to fallen deputy
Nassau County Deputy Eric Oliver, 32, killed chasing undocumented worker
NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – Hundreds of people gathered Saturday to remember the life of a Nassau County Sheriff's deputy who was killed in the line of duty this week.
Deputy Eric Oliver, 32, was killed Tuesday when he was struck by an SUV while chasing an undocumented worker across a highway.
Oliver and another deputy were assisting a Border Patrol agent who had detained six people at a Gate gas station on State Road 200 in Yulee around 7:30 a.m., when one of the men ran.
The deputies followed the undocumented worker on foot. The first deputy made it safely across the road, but Oliver was struck and killed.
Oliver joined the Sheriff's Office in 2009 after serving five years in the U.S. Navy. He leaves behind a 6-year-old daughter.
Uniformed deputies and officers filed in along with citizens Saturday morning at First Baptist Church of Fernandina Beach as music played and photos of Oliver and his family were displayed on two screens above the stage.
Two officers stood on either side of Oliver's flag-draped casket as wreaths and flower arrangements lined both sides of the stage.
Gov. Rick Scott, Florida Sen. Aaron Bean and State Attorney Angela Corey were among the dignitaries seated on the stage, along with Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper.
Leeper said Oliver was not just an employee of the sheriff's office, he was family.
“I ask you to try to live a life a little more like Eric did," Leeper said. "Try not to take everything so seriously. Smile more. Have a good time with family and friends.”
After sharing a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote about the meaning of a successful life, Leeper said he believed Oliver lived such a life.
“I can say for certain that Deputy Oliver was successful, because our community breathed easier because he lived," Leeper said.
Oliver's father, Doug Oliver, who is also a former military service member and law enforcement officer, said his son survived two combat tours with the Navy in the Middle East before deciding to leave the military and move back to Fernandina Beach.
Doug Oliver said that after Eric was hired as a corrections officer in Nassau County, he “got the itch” and wanted to be on the streets as a patrol deputy, so he worked 20-hour days going to the Academy during the day and then working as a corrections officer at night, getting only a few hours of sleep.
“My brothers know what it's like to do that," Doug Oliver said. "It's not easy.”
Doug Oliver said he was proud of how his son served the community, and described the awful moment when Leeper came to his door to deliver the news that his son had died in the line of duty.
He said his family has been getting through one day at a time since then.
“Our community has been showing us a lot of love, and I really appreciate it. It shows me that his life wasn't wasted on a community that didn't love him," Doug Oliver said. "He loved this community. He loved this country. He would have died in the military if he had to, and you see what he did here. He died for our community to make it safer.”
He also tried to offer peace of mind to the woman who hit his son.
"I also want to put my hand out in extension to the young lady that is out there that struck my son," Doug Oliver said. "I know you’re grieving. I know you’re having a rough time. I know it will never leave your mind, but I want you to know we have forgiven you, and it’s not your fault."
Other speakers at the funeral asked the community to continue to be there for Eric Oliver's family.
“Everyone will show up to help a law enforcement officer, and the reason why is they show up every day for us,” Scott said. “I know Eric's family will be always be taken care of right here.”
Bean implored the crowd to continue to support Eric Oliver's family and fellow members of law enforcement well after Saturday's service.
“It is my hope that our support for Eric's family does not end when we lay him to rest today," Bean said. “The best way we can honor the sacrifice of this American hero is to show our support and gratitude for every member of law enforcement and to embrace Deputy Oliver's family and demonstrate that we are indeed a nation, state and community worthy of his sacrifice.”
Eric Oliver was buried with full military and police honors, including a 21-gun salute, Saturday afternoon at the Bosque Bello Cemetery.
Oliver’s viewing was held Friday at the Oxley-Heard Funeral Home in Fernandina Beach.
“(He was) very family oriented,” a neighbor of Oliver’s parents, Jennifer Kelly, said. “(A) wonderful father, and it shocked all of us in the community.”
Attendees said Oliver died doing what he loved and lived a life dedicated to protecting the county.
The American flag outside the Nassau County Sheriff's Office is flying at half-staff, just feet above Oliver's patrol car, which has become a growing memorial with wreaths, flowers, balloons and photos. The Nassau County Fire Department also honored Oliver by displaying a flag in front of the funeral home.
“This is a tragedy you never want to see happen, but when it does, first responders come together as one family. They all work together every day. If one passes away, it hurts a lot of us,” Leeper said. “Now is the time for us to come together, heal the wounds and carry on.”
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