Popular Putnam County businessman dies in boating accident

Rodney Sheffield, 67, was staple in rural community

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

POMONA PARK, Fla. - Putnam County residents are mourning the death of a well-known and popular business owner.

Friends said Rodney Sheffield, 67, died Tuesday afternoon after falling off a boat while fishing with a friend.

His body was found four hours later in Little Lake Louise in the city of Seville in Volusia County. Investigators are still trying to figure out exactly what happened.

Sheffield, who lived in Palatka, owned Hill’s Hardware and Recycling in Pomona Park. The sign out front reads: “We love you boss.” Across the street, there’s a sign in his memory at the town hall.

He leaves behind a wife, two sons and five grandchildren.

There was a steady stream of customers coming by the shop to pay their respects Wednesday.

Employees said the phones were “ringing off the hook” with people upset about his death.

“It’s pretty sad that he’s gone,” said Aaron Burdette, a former employee turned customer. “He was a really, really good guy. He actually gave me my first job when I was younger.”

“I did not get any sleep last night,” remarked Kristian Unruh, the manager of Hill’s Hardware. “I guess when a freak accident like this happens, you don’t expect it. It wasn’t like he was sick.”

Loved ones said Sheffield wore his heart on his sleeve. News4Jax spoke with him months ago while covering the 10-year mark since the disappearance of HaLeigh Cummings.

Sheffield and his wife, Cathy, kept her name on his store’s sign as a constant reminder of the unsolved case.

“Somebody, somewhere knows something,” the late Sheffield said in an interview. “I just hope they will ride by this store enough times that at some point, they will break and we will find out what really happened to that child. She needs closure. The family needs closure.”

At his family’s wishes, Hill’s Hardware remained open a day after his death. There are no plans to close the shop.

“He cared about everybody in his community,” said cashier Sue Harris. “He would want us to be open today serving the people that needed us. That’s what he always told us.”

Harris remembered the man she knew for nearly two decades.

“He loved his family very much,” she said. “He was a Christian man, so we know where he is at. That’s a good thing.”

Employees said every time Sheffield would go hunting or fishing, he would leave a handwritten note for his wife, to let her know he was thinking about her and that he loved her. He did so the same day he died.

News4Jax has left messages with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office for the latest on the investigation, but had not heard back as of late Wednesday afternoon. 

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