Former co-worker: Fallen Jacksonville officer 'irreplaceable'

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – A former co-worker cannot fathom how the community will replace the Jacksonville Sheriff's officer killed in the line of duty Tuesday in a single-car crash on Interstate 295.

Atlantic Beach Police Cmdr. Tiffany Layson said she was fortunate enough to work alongside Officer Lance Whitaker when she first started working for the police department in 2000.

While his three-year stint with the department may have been short compared to the 17 years he later spent with the Sheriff's Office, she said he made a lasting impact.

"He was a great partner to have on the street, an all-around good officer," said Layson. "He had all the right intentions, he was here to help people and to arrest bad guys."

Layson said the two worked the same shift and had the same days off. As a result, she said, they stayed in touch even after he left the department for the Sheriff's Office in 2002.

She said Whitaker loved working as a patrolman, particularly on the midnight shift. She said he enjoyed the types of calls that came in at all hours, something she said takes a special kind of person.

Among other stories she shared, Layson recalled how pumped Whitaker was when he bought a motorcycle. He was eager he was to show it off, despite having only one helmet.

"He wanted to come over and give me a ride on his motorcycle," she said. "I told him I wasn't. 'I am not riding your motorcycle without a helmet."

That may have been a deal breaker, but Whitaker didn't take no for an answer.

"He went to the store and bought a helmet, then came to my house and said, 'OK, now you've got to ride on it," she recalled.

Layson said Whitaker's loss leaves a huge void to fill.

"He was always the big, bold guy with the big smile," she said. "He would try to solve anybody's problems. I think he's irreplaceable."

Whitaker is survived by a 14-year-old son and a fiancee with three children of her own, to whom the 48-year-old was like a father.