GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. - More than two days after he was involved in an on-duty traffic crash, Clay County Deputy Ben Zirbel has died.
"It hurts to know that your co-worker, your brother, is gone," Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels said Wednesday.
Zirbel, a 12-year veteran with the department, was critically injured in a crash Sunday morning at Blanding Boulevard and Camp Francis Johnson Road. The Florida Highway Patrol said a man pulling a lawn trailer did not yield the right of way, and Zirbel’s motorcycle crashed into the trailer, throwing him off the bike.
"My deputy was driving in a straight line. That's a fact. Somebody drove into his path," Daniels said. "His memory will not be forgotten. Him falling in the line of duty will not be in vain."
Zirbel died Tuesday night, leaving behind a wife, Anna, and 8-year-old son. She attended Wednesday's announcement, thanking Clay County and the law enforcement community for their support.
“We will always miss him, but we know that his kindness and his big heart will live within all of us," Anna Zirbel said.
She spoke with somber pride about her husband and was proud to be able to announce that he is still serving by having been an organ donor.
“Ben's passion in life was to help people, which is why he became a sheriff's deputy," she said. "It gives me comfort to say that with his death, he may be helping save the lives of at least seven other individuals with his organs."
Daniels said his department was shaken by Zirbel's death.
"Each of us interacted with Ben in our own way," Daniels said. "Sometimes a laugh, sometimes a joke, sometimes just sharing information. It's a struggle for some of us. It's a brotherhood -- a family in law enforcement."
Daniels said the department has been told the driver involved in the crash has received death threats. He said if that was happening, it doesn’t help law enforcement, and added that his fallen deputy wouldn't want to have wanted to see that happen.
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"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," Gov. Rick Scott said in an email Wednesday.
"I encourage all Floridians to join us in praying for Deputy Zirbel’s loved ones and the entire Clay County law enforcement community.”
Daniels said Zirbel's unexpected and senseless death hurts everyone in the Sheriff's Office and the community.
"When it was a tactical situation or some ... high-risk dangerous situation, the blow would be a little softer, but to be traveling down the street and just lose your life in an untimely way like he did is just very unfortunate," he said.
The body will be taken to a funeral home later this week. No date has been set for funeral services.
A VyStar Credit Union account has been set up for Zirbel and his family. The account number is 7507565803 and donations can be made at any branch. A GoFundMe page was also created Tuesday.
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