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Tribute to life of Clay County deputy known for helping others

Funeral services for Deputy Ben Zirbel held Saturday

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MIDDLEBURG, Fla. – It was standing room only as Clay County Deputy Ben Zirbel was honored Saturday by family, friends and fellow officers at a funeral service in Middleburg.

Zirbel died in the line of duty while on traffic patrol on his department-issued motorcycle. He leaves behind a wife, Anna, and an 8-year-old son.

"We will always miss him, but we know that his kindness and his big heart will live within all of us," Anna Zirbel said.

The funeral was held at  St. Luke's Catholic Church on Blanding Boulevard in Middleburg where Reverand Andrzej Blaszkowski said, "We stand together in your grief. Left alone we would fall down in despair but together we will hold each other up."

He said Ben's biggest goal in life was to help others and he did that well serving as a Clay County deputy.

Ben's brother, Nick Zirbel said "As sad as we may be right now. We need to see joy. Joy and what Ben had been The examples that he set. As a father husband brother sign mentor and friend."  

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After the service, the Clay County Honor Guard held a ceremony in the parking lot of the funeral home. Zirbel was a member of the Honor Guard and participated in the county's Police Memorial Day service in May.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, a man driving a Dodge Dakota pulling a lawn trailer failed to yield the right of way, and Zirbel's motorcycle collided with the trailer. The force of the impact threw Zirbel from his motorcycle. He died three days later from his injuries.

The 12-year veteran was honored Friday as residents lined the streets along Blanding Boulevard, waving American flags as his remains were taken to the Russell Haven of Rest Funeral home. Sheriff Darryl Daniels and deputies saluted as his flag-draped coffin was carried inside.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered flags flown at half-staff Saturday at the state Capitol, the Clay County Courthouse, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and Green Cove Springs City Hall in honor of Deputy Zirbel.  He also attended the funeral Saturday.

"Our brave men and women in uniform put themselves in danger every day to keep our communities safe and we will always be grateful for their sacrifices," Scott said in an email Wednesday.

In addition to the Governor, dignitaries from all over the state were on hand.

"People talk a lot about law-enforcement family. We really are one large family. Anytime you have a tragedy like this it's important to show up and show respect," said Sheriff Mike Williams.

After the funeral mass, the mourners went outside for a 21-gun salute and flyover by the Customs and Border Patrol's air and marine operations.

The memorial ended with bagpipes playing Amazing Grace and a symbolic, riderless horse leading the way for his casket to return home.

An account at VyStar Credit Union (#7507565803) and a GoFundMe account was set up for those who would like to donate to the family of the fallen deputy. 

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.