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Honoring the life and service of Sheriff's Capt. Scott Bierwiler

Deputies stood two deep behind the packed pews at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Spring Hill.

Patrol cars from all over Florida lined the roads around the church. The procession after Wednesday afternoon's funeral Mass halted traffic on the county's busiest highway.

It made for one of the most elaborate displays of public grief in recent Hernando history and, based on everything I knew about sheriff's Capt. Scott Bierwiler and have learned since his death last week, it was entirely justified.

In more than 22 years with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, the 42-year-old Capt. Bierwiler had accumulated a thick file of commendations for exemplary work.

He was recognized for his valor in 2003 after he chased down a man wanted for killing a New Jersey police officer. A decade earlier, he helped build the case against one of the most terrifying criminals in county history, serial killer Bernard "Michael'' Kaprat.

Even his death, in a head-on collision with an SUV, was a testament to his commitment. His car was struck as he drove to work more than two hours before he was due to report.

And, yes, he seemed likely to become the next sheriff.

It may be easy to forget this because we have become accustomed to capable, honest leadership in that position, but no job in this county is more important.

Public safety is society's bedrock. The relative order of Hernando has been a big reason so many residents moved here from Northern cities.

That such a promising candidate as Capt. Bierwiler was never able fill this role is a genuine tragedy — as is, let's not forget, that the responsibility for it has fallen on the shoulders of a 16-year-old boy.

Still, we shortchange Capt. Bierwiler's family if we think of him only as a public figure.

By all accounts, he was at least as devoted to them as he was to the county.

Some of Capt. Bierwiler's happiest times, a fellow deputy said this week, were spent boating on the Gulf of Mexico with his wife, Angie; daughters, Kayla and Kiley, and son, Scott Jr.

Just a few days before his death, he had taken Scott Jr. to the Daytona 500, said the Rev. James McAteer, who during Wednesday's Mass called Capt. Bierwiler "a good man, a good police officer, a good father, a good citizen.''

So he gave his family all he had. And, as with his career, his death prevented him from giving much more. He never saw them graduate from college, never got to hold his grandchildren.

But if there is any excuse for us intruding on their grief, it is that public life was Capt. Bierwiler's legacy.

His late father, Frank, helped bring about the modern era of law enforcement in Hernando, when he ran a close and courageous race for sheriff in 1980. He served many years as a sergeant under his friend, Sheriff Tom Mylander. And in 1983, Frank Bierwiler founded DayStar Hope Center, which for the next 20 years provided food, clothing and shelter to county residents who needed help the most.

Colleen Bierwiler, Scott's sister-in-law, carried on this tradition by helping distribute Christmas toys to foster children at St. Theresa.

"Community service — that just goes hand-in-hand with being a Bierwiler,'' she said when she told me about the program last December.

Community service. That is also why the church was packed on Wednesday and why the roads were lined with mourners.

I hope Capt. Bierwiler's widow and children understand. I hope, in some way, it helps.

Honoring the life and service of Sheriff's Capt. Scott Bierwiler 02/25/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 8:20pm]

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