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At Tampa funeral, police Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis mourned

LUTZ

The morning was muggy, but the sky stayed clear.

Police cruisers from across the state blanketed N Dale Mabry Highway. After a tortuous search that spanned four days, they were headed in the same direction. They would marry grief with relief and lay to rest two of their own kind.

Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis, zone partners barely in their 30s, were gunned down during a routine traffic stop. The mayor said it didn't make sense to see the police, the people who protect us, in caskets.

"It's not right," said Pam Iorio, standing outside Idlewild Baptist Church.

Inside, 5,000 people assembled — officers from as far away as New York, Arizona, Minnesota and California, kids in camouflage, bikers in leather vests, firefighters, FBI agents.

Dignitaries, too. Gov. Charlie Crist and his wife, Carole, attended, as well as council members, commissioners, state representatives and judges.

"None of us will hurt today like these men and women in uniform," said Idlewild Senior Pastor Ken Whitten. "And I want the men and women in uniform to know none of you will ever hurt like these families."

The two wives, Sara Kocab and Kelly Curtis, were supposed to meet for the first time Saturday at a police squad party. Instead, they came together as widows.

Nearly 50 flower arrangements surrounded the flag-draped caskets.

On the right lay Jeffrey Kocab, who had the nickname "Taz" because he moved like he swilled energy drinks.

"It's just me," he'd say.

He sometimes slept in his police uniform so he could get to work faster. Last Christmas, Iorio joked with Kocab that he looked too young to be an officer. A former actor, Kocab hoped to channel his skills into undercover detective work.

He mentored his pastor's young son, taking him on police adventures and bringing him toys — as long as he could have some, too.

"I watched him get down on the floor and play with G.I. Joes," Jeffrey Howell, senior pastor at Church on the Rock in Plant City told Sara Kocab, who is nine months pregnant. "I thank God for your husband."

Kocab met his wife when they both worked at a restaurant. She had an immediate crush. At a recent church marriage workshop, Kocab called Sara his best friend.

He was anxious for the birth of their daughter, Lilly Nicole. "How will I know if Sara's in labor?" he asked his friend, Plant City police Officer Charlie Helm. "I don't know," Helm told him. "I've never been in labor."

On the left lay David Curtis, father of four boys.

He was a bleach-blond, pierced bouncer when he met his future wife, Kelly, in college. She was a waitress. He left her $20 tips on $5 sandwiches. The first time he met her family, he leaned back in a chair so far the legs snapped.

He was barrel-chested and kept snacks in his zip-front police shirt. He wore an alligator foot necklace for luck and was a whiz at golf cart repair. He was a romantic. The day before he died, he went outside and clipped Kelly four roses to cheer her up — one for each son.

He never missed a fishing date. When his truck broke down once, he crammed his gear into a beat-up Crown Victoria. He showed up grinning to Officer Dave Michelson's house, fishing poles sticking out the car windows.

"If he told you he was going to be there, he would be there," said Michelson.

At the visitation Friday, one of Curtis' sons nibbled an Oreo over the casket, sprinkling crumbs inside. Curtis was a clean freak, said his father-in-law Chris Bowers, but he would have loved knowing the crumbs were there.

The two officers were friends. Curtis once called Kocab for backup — he had a spider in his patrol car.

They followed rules and pulled each other out of danger more than once, said Tampa police Chief Jane Castor. They would have climbed the ranks if they had the chance, she said.

No one mentioned the man accused in the killings, Dontae Morris, by name. But the preachers and even the mayor — who found herself unable to write a word of her eulogy until Morris was captured — spoke of evil.

They all thanked law enforcement. "The veil that was over us all was that this person was still on the loose," said John Hays, pastor at St. Anne Catholic Church. "Thank you all."

Someone in the crowd started to applaud, then sheepishly stopped.

"Yes," Hays said. "Thank you."

Everyone clapped.

Outside, Kocab and Curtis each received a 21-gun salute. Helicopters swooped overhead. A 911 dispatcher, following police funeral tradition, issued a last call for the fallen officers, asking them to respond. After the silence, the dispatcher said the men had ended their watch.

"Let them never be forgotten," he said at 12:44 p.m., "and God rest their souls."

Law enforcement workers of every kind, mixed with civilians, stood in the sun with fists clenched at attention. The voice on the loudspeaker asked them to salute.

As they did, rain began to pour from the sky.

Times staff writer William Levesque contributed to this report. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857. Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2442.

At Tampa funeral, police Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis mourned 07/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 3, 2010 11:56pm]
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