JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Within hours of a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office patrolman who was responding to a traffic accident losing his life in a crash, flags around the city were at half-staff and condolences came in from his comrades, a grieving city and across the state.
Attending an active-shooter training summit with officers in Riverside, Mayor Lenny Curry called the death of Officer Lance Whitaker "terrible news" and "sad news," and led a moment of silence.
"It's a very sad and tragic reminder that any time our law enforcement goes out on a shift ... their family doesn't know what they're walking into, driving into," Curry said Tuesday morning.
The flag was flying at half-staff near the entrance to the Police Memorial Building downtown, which was wrapped in symbolic blue and black ribbons as officers were already wearing black bands across their badges to honor their fallen comrade.
"Every day that they go to work, they realize something could happen that changes their lives or the lives of their families," JSO Director Mike Bruno said. "I actually heard someone the other day
talk about heroes are the individuals that put on the badge or put on the uniform, knowing they might not come back, but going anyway. That's what these men and women are."
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chief Kurtis Wilson's firefighters responded to the crash, and said it’s traumatizing trying to save someone you’ve possibly worked with before.
"We’re not immune. We’re human like everybody else. We suffer from the same tragedies," Wilson said, adding that peer support staff will be reaching out to the firefighters who responded to the deadly crash to make sure they're in a good place following the sad and traumatizing situation.
Curry, the Jacksonville City Council, JFRD and the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office have all offered whatever assistance they can provide to Whitaker's family and JSO as they cope with the tragedy.
Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Zona told News4Jax FOP President Steve Zona that he has received an outpouring of support from across the country.
"I couldn’t begin to describe the number of calls, text messages and emails I received from members of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office," he said. "But I will take it a step further. From the East Coast to the West Coast, from the north to the south, brothers and sisters in blue have been reaching out, wanting to help."
Gov. Rick Scott released the following statement on Whitaker's death:
My wife, Ann, and I are heartbroken by the loss of Officer Lance C. Whitaker. I spoke with Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams this morning to express our condolences to him and everyone at the Sheriff’s Office. Everyday our brave men and women in law enforcement risk their lives to keep our communities safe and we must demonstrate our gratitude for their sacrifices. Tonight, I ask every Floridian to join us in praying for Officer Whitaker’s family during this incredibly difficult time.”
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam also released a statement below regarding the officer's death:
Officer Lance C. Whitaker died selflessly in the line of duty responding to a crash, and my deepest condolences go out to his family, loved ones and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Florida is at a 46-year low crime rate, and it’s due to our courageous law enforcement officers who sacrifice their own safety for others. Officer Whitaker will forever be remembered as a hero.”
Edward Waters College President Nat Glover said it was a situation he always dreaded when he served as the sheriff of Jacksonville from 1995 to 2003.
"The part that was so awful to me was having to deliver that message," Glover told News4Jax. "Say to that family that their loved one is not coming home that night or that day. And it was always awful. It does present kind of a cloud over the agency for a while."
Whitaker's name will eventually be added to the Fallen Officers Memorial Wall in front of the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on A. Philip Randolph Boulevard. A memorial area for anyone wishing to leave flowers or sentiments for Whitaker has been set up there.
Sadly, as we lay another law enforcement officer to rest today, we learn of another traffic loss. Officer Lance C. Whitaker lost his life today in a tragic car crash while serving the @JSOPIO. Please pray for his family and loved ones during this difficult time.— Fla. AG Pam Bondi (@AGPamBondi) May 15, 2018