Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ceremony Honors Police Killed Doing Duty Middleburg Family Still Feels Pain of Loss

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ceremony Honors Police Killed Doing Duty Middleburg Family Still Feels Pain of Loss

Article excerpt

Byline: R. Michael Anderson, County Line staff writer

MIDDLEBURG -- Even after 25 years, the pain can still be seen and heard in the eyes and voices of Richard Watkins' family members as they recall the day he died doing what he loved: law enforcement work.

"It was devastating," said Jean Watkins Clark, who was 19 when her father, who operated a small cattle ranch, died in a car crash while on duty as a sergeant in the Clay County Sheriff's Office. "I miss our family outings and his cow tales."

Watkins had responded to an attempted suicide call on May 3, 1976, and was following an ambulance transporting the victim when his patrol car was struck broadside by a truck at Blanding Boulevard and Old Jennings Road.

"A sand truck ran into him," his widow, Ann Gambrell, said Wednesday at the sheriff's Middleburg substation. "It happened right near here."

Gambrell, who remarried nine years later, was among a few dozen guests at a memorial Wednesday morning at the sheriff's Middleburg substation to pay tribute to all law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

The ceremony, complete with a 21-gun salute (seven shotguns fired three times each) and the solemn sounds of Taps , began at 9 a.m. in observance of National Police Memorial Week. In addition to Watkins, three former Clay County sheriffs and two other deputies have died in the line of duty since 1894.

With surviving relatives seated under a tent surrounded by dozens of county, municipal and state law enforcement officers on the substation parking lot, Sheriff Scott Lancaster expressed condolences to family members of loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Last year, Lancaster said, 151 officers throughout the United States died in the line of duty, which was a 13 percent increase over the previous year, "so that we might live freely." One-third of the officers -- 51 -- were shot, 47 died in car crashes and 20 were killed when they were struck by automobiles.

The others, Lancaster said, died in various manners: eight motorcycle crashes, seven airplane crashes, six job-related illnesses, three drownings, three falls, two stabbings, one bombing, one bicycle accident, a horse accident and a beating. …

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