Wreath-laying ceremony held in memory of fallen Clay County deputy

Monday marks one year since crash that killed Deputy Ben Zirbel

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – The Clay County Sheriff's Office honored fallen Deputy Ben Zirbel with a wreath-laying ceremony Monday, which marked one year since the crash that led to his death.

The motorcycle deputy was kept on life support so his organs could be donated, but the 12-year veteran was taken off two days after the crash Aug. 19, 2018. He left behind a wife and young son.

In his memory, the Sheriff's Office held the private service at 10:55 a.m. -- the time when the crash happened last year -- at the intersection where it happened.

The Sheriff's Office said Sheriff Darryl Daniels, members of the agency and others who were close to Zirbel were present as Sgt. Donald Sutherland, who worked with Zirbel on the Traffic Unit, laid the wreath. The Florida Highway Patrol, Sheriff's Office Public Service Aids, the Sheriff's Office Honor Guard and Clay County Fire Rescue were also present during the memorial.

IMAGES: Wreath-laying ceremony in memory of Deputy Ben Zirbel

The Sheriff's Office also said it will honor Zirbel again on Wednesday, which marked one year since his death, with a wreath on display in front of the Sheriff's Office headquarters in Green Cove Springs. 

A memorial banner also stretches across the front doors at the Sheriff's Office headquarters. Zirbel's name is etched in stone on the fallen deputies memorial marker just yards away. His image is found in even the most obscure spaces of the building. 

Deputy Jimmy Stalnaker not only taught Zirbel in motor school, but they were also on the same squad. He said he will never forget the moment he learned of the crash. 

"It was a Sunday morning. I got the phone call, everything was a blur after that," Stalnaker said. "It was just ... couldn't believe it."

Florida Highway Patrol said Zirbel was on-duty, heading south on Blanding Boulevard in his agency-issued motorcycle when a northbound pickup truck towing a lawn trailer turned left onto Camp Francis Johnson Road and the vehicles collided. Zirbel was thrown from his bike on impact. 

Stalnaker said Zirbel's caring nature and passion for serving are remembered every day. Even the small things trigger memories. 

"If you needed something, he was right there for you. We talk about him every day," Stalnaker said. "The other day we were, needing something, a zip tie. And Ben always had zip ties on him. I said, 'Man, if Ben was here, we'd have that zip tie.'"

Stalnaker said more than anything, his hope is that the community will remember Zirbel, and stay safe out on the roads. 

"Every day is different, but we have to move forward," Stalnaker said. "Traffic enforcement was his love and trying to reduce crashes, save lives through traffic enforcement in Clay County ... that was his passion. And we continue that."

Zirbel's name was added to the National Monument for Fallen Officers in Washington, D.C. A memorial ride was held to make that happen. Stalnaker said another memorial ride is in the works, possibly this year or next. 

Last week, the Highway Patrol announced that the driver in Zirbel's case was cited for failing to yield.

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.