BROOKSVILLE — As usual, Scott Bierwiler was ahead of schedule.
In the predawn darkness Thursday, the Hernando sheriff's captain was rolling along Powell Road heading to work — about two hours before his shift was set to begin. This intense work ethic was just one of the traits that had some in Hernando County saying that the 42-year-old was destined to become the next sheriff.
But at 5:45 a.m., Bierwiler's unmarked unit, a dark-colored 1999 Ford Crown Victoria, collided head-on with an SUV driven by Andrew Frank Morris, a 16-year-old Nature Coast High School junior. The crash occurred less than a mile from the school.
The violent impact woke up homeowners nearby and ripped open the driver's sides of both vehicles. Bierwiler died instantly, the Florida Highway Patrol said. Morris of Weeki Wachee was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where he was headed into surgery Thursday night and listed in serious condition.
Hours after the crash, standing in a building named last year for Bierwiler's late father, Frank Bierwiler Jr., a longtime sheriff's official, Sheriff Richard Nugent struggled with his composure.
Bierwiler, a 22-year veteran, was the "future of the agency," said Nugent, his gold shield covered with a black mourning strip.
"It's a loss for the community, a loss for the agency and a loss especially for his family," he said.
Bierwiler's wife and three children — ages 9, 16 and 18 — live in Spring Hill.
At the same time, at the far western reaches of the county, family and friends of Andrew Morris spoke of a teen they uniformly called "a good boy.''
"We're just devastated," said Marie Schinder of Pine Island, Morris' godmother, who lives next door to the teen's grandfather, Stanley Morris.
"He's a very good boy, and I'm not just saying it because he's our godson," she said. "He's such a good-hearted kid. He was over here helping his grandfather paint his home the other weekend."
Morris' mother and stepfather were at the hospital in Tampa, Schinder said. Attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.
Linda Peterson, Morris' neighbor on Mertal Street, said, "He's a good boy. I've known him since he was 5 years old. When I go on vacation, he waters the plants for me.''
"We think the world of Andrew,'' echoed Lucille Curry, another neighbor. "When we go on vacation, he would come over and take care of our cat and our yard. He's such a good one.''
The FHP investigation continued Thursday night, but an early indication from the Sheriff's Office that Morris had stolen the 2002 white Mitsubishi Montero proved unfounded. The vehicle belonged to Morris' mother, although it was unclear whether he had permission to drive it.
Gerald Kline said he was pouring water into a dish for his cat when he heard what sounded like "a bomb or an explosion" on the road behind his home.
"It was a horrific crash," he said. "There were no brakes, no tires screeching, nothing like that. Just a boom! The entire house shook."
Kline said he ran outside and saw flames under the Mitsubishi, which had been traveling west on Powell Road near Spring Park Way. He called 911. "I told them that it don't look good."
When he ran back outside, a couple of passing motorists had already stopped to help. "We checked the deputy's car," Kline said. "We knew he was gone. It was just obvious to us.
"Then we went over to the Mitsubishi and we could hear the kid crying inside," Kline said.
Arriving deputies were rocked as they heard the victim was Bierwiler. "They were all tore up,'' Kline said. "I can't blame them. … There was a lot of crying out there."
It was unclear Thursday just what Morris was doing heading away from Nature Coast about an hour before classes were set to begin.
Morris was listed on the online roster for the school's cross country team.
On what appears to be his MySpace page, Morris said he was once a member of the wrestling team.
Minutes after school had ended Thursday, several students said news of the accident had been making it way around Nature Coast. School officials told teachers and administrators not to discuss the accident.
Mike Lastra, the school's wrestling coach, said he knew Morris but told the St. Petersburg Times that he had been told not to comment any further.
Bierwiler graduated from Springstead High School in 1984 and seemed destined for great things, said longtime family friend and former Hernando Sheriff Tom Mylander, who worked with Bierwiler's father during the 1980s and 1990s.
The younger Bierwiler seemed eager to learn everything about law enforcement and enrolled in a police academy right out of high school.
"He was self-motivated, the kind of a guy who gave every job he had 110 percent," Mylander said.
Bierwiler recently celebrated his first anniversary as Operations Bureau commander, where he oversaw several key departments, including road patrol and traffic.
He began his career with the Sheriff's Office in October 1986. He was promoted to sergeant in 1998 and served in intelligence and narcotics units. He made lieutenant in 2003.
Mylander said that he and Bierwiler talked often about his desire to run for sheriff some day.
"That's one of the saddest things about this," Mylander said. "He would have made a great one."
Times staff writer John Frank contributed to this report. Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435. Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.