JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Somber silence gripped the heart of Riverside on Thursday as hundreds of people lined the roadways to pay respects to a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office patrolman killed in the line of duty in a crash on Interstate 295.
The rumble of motorcycle engines was the only sound heard as officers with JSO escorted the body of Officer Lance Whitaker, 48, on a 30-minute ride from the medical examiner's office to the Hardage-Giddens funeral home Thursday morning.
JSO officers lined several blocks of the route with their police car lights, honoring their brother in blue. Law enforcement officers from other local agencies also participated, and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department had engines parked along the route.
Gary Van Looven said his son rode with Whitaker, a 17-year veteran of JSO, when he first went on the force.
"How can you not come down here and show your love for them?" Van Looven said of attending the procession. "They put their lives on the line every day for you and me."
Gayla Jones knows the risks law enforcement officers face each day. Her youngest son began his JSO career Thursday and her oldest son has been on the force for a year.
"I just wanted to pay my respects to the patrol officer and show my support for everyone who puts on a badge," Jones said.
She said she is proud of them and all the officers for risking everything to keep the community safe. Jones said it was moving to see the support from law enforcement Thursday.
"I think everyone knows it could be them. I’ve seen officers from all different areas, military, officers. It shows what kind of integrity these men and women have," Jones said. "They have a calling to do this job. It’s not just a job; it’s a calling on their life."
That calling for Whitaker included a love for the midnight shift that ended tragically Tuesday as he worked to find a crash on rainy I-295. He was killed when his patrol car ran off the road about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday on northbound I-295 at Alta Drive.
Brandice Johnson said she was working in the JFRD call center when the 911 call came in for Whitaker's crash.
"It's the worst thing you want to hear as a dispatcher," Johnson said. "We have to keep going. Citizens still need us. Fallen but never forgotten."
Whitaker’s fiancee, Shannon Lien, told News4Jax this week that she had been planning a dinner date this weekend and is now left with a void in her life that she says can’t be filled.
"He was a wonderful man, huge heart. He looked like he would be kind of rough on the outside, but he would do anything for anybody," Lien said. "He was my best friend, the love of my life. He was a father to my children, I have three, he has one. He was wonderful to all four."
The procession for Whitaker ran along Jefferson Street from Eighth Street, down the ramp to Riverside Avenue, right on Edison Avenue, left on Oak Street and into the back of the funeral home on Park Street.
"It's sad, but it's nice that we come together and support our fallen heroes," said Joseph Evans, who attended Thursday's procession.
Whitaker will receive full honors from the JSO Honor Guard for his funeral:
- Viewing is 5-8 p.m. Tuesday at Evangel Temple, 5755 Ramona Blvd., Jacksonville, 32205
- Funeral services are 11 a.m. Wednesday at Evangel Temple
- Graveside service will follow the church service at Oaklawn Cemetery, 4801 San Jose Blvd., Jacksonville, 32207
- Police vehicle procession will take place between the church service and graveside service.