BROOKSVILLE — The call came to Scott Bierwiler at 5:15 a.m. that April day in 2003. Omar Marti, wanted for killing a New Jersey police officer and wounding a second cop, was holed up in a mobile home in Ridge Manor.
Bierwiler, then a Hernando County Sheriff's sergeant, led a patrol to check out the tip. A short time later, he drove slowly past the home and saw Marti sitting on the front porch.
What happened next is the stuff of televised cop dramas.
Marti managed to drive out of the trap deputies laid for him and made it 20 miles into Sumter County, all the while firing shots at pursuing deputies, including Bierwiler. As deputies closed in on his disabled car, Marti turned his shotgun on himself.
In September of that year, Bierwiler received one of four medals of valor awarded by Sheriff Richard Nugent to the deputies involved in the incident.
It was one of several times that Bierwiler faced off against gun-wielding opponents during his 22 years on the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. But last week, it was an SUV, not a bullet, that claimed the life of a man many in Hernando County law enforcement predicted would be the next sheriff.
Today, hundreds of mourners, including fellow law enforcement officers and deputies from across Florida and from other states, are expected to converge at St. Theresa's Catholic Church on U.S. 19 to pay their respects to Bierwiler and his family.
When not on the job, Bierwiler, 42, turned his full attention to his wife, Angie, and children Kayla, 18, Kiley, 16, and 9-year-old Scott Jr. Sundays often found Bierwiler and his friend and co-worker, Billy Beetz, and their families heading for the flats off Bayport in the boat the families co-owned.
"We'd stay out all day sometimes and do barbecue and watch the kids swim," said Beetz, a sergeant in the special operations division. "Those were some of the happiest times I saw Scott. His family meant everything to him."
Friends say that to Bierwiler, the notion of family extended beyond his own kin.
"One of the things that attracted him to law enforcement was that it was a family,'' said former Hernando sheriff Tom Mylander. "He felt comfortable being part of it."
"Scott loved everything about the job," said Beetz.
While he was very ambitious about his own career, Bierwiler never forgot the value of being a mentor for those in his charge, Beetz said.
"He encouraged people and would do anything to help them to reach their goals," said Beetz. "To him, it was simply a matter of trying to make the department better."
Born in Cold Springs, N.Y., Bierwiler has law enforcement in his heritage. His father, Frank Bierwiler Jr., was a retired New York State police officer and former Hernando County Sheriff's Office public information officer. The younger Bierwiler dreamed at an early age of being a law officer.
His career with the Hernando sheriff's office began in 1986, and it wasn't long before he was earning praise from his superiors. Personnel records point to numerous commendations as a patrol deputy.
He was promoted to sergeant in 1998, to lieutenant in 2003 and earned his captain's bars in October 2008, the same year he graduated from the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va.
Bierwiler most recently was the operations bureau commander and previously supervised the vice and narcotics unit. He also served in the agency's traffic unit, criminal investigations division, intelligence unit and supervised road patrol.
Bierwiler died early Thursday when his police cruiser collided head-on with a Mitsubishi Montero on Powell Road near Spring Park Way. The driver of the SUV, Andrew Frank Morris, 16, of Weeki Wachee, remained hospitalized in a Tampa hospital on Tuesday.
The death of the well-loved law officer stunned the community and echoed far and wide. An electronic guestbook on the St. Petersburg Times Web site contains more than 40 pages of condolences and remembrances.
Many are from fellow officers from across the country, including several of his classmates at the FBI academy.
"An absolute class act, who impressed me with his professionalism, cool demeanor, and overall decency, I was convinced Scott was destined for even greater accomplishments with the Hernando County Sheriff's Department,'' wrote Lt. Michael Darcy of the Connecticut State Police.
"The avalanche of postings in this forum from citizens and law enforcement personnel who felt so strongly about Scott as a person and a law enforcement professional are a testament to the fact that he was a man you don't meet every day. The high number of postings from his fellow FBI …classmates should demonstrate the strong impression Scott left on all of us.''
Closer to home, a former Hernando road deputy shared a memory.
"I will forever remember the day we were responding to a call of shots fired,'' wrote P.L. Flinn of Spring Hill. "I was in the rear and a car pulled out in front of me on Spring Hill Drive. I crashed into a car that had pulled over. I was totally disoriented and dazed.
"As I stepped out into four lanes of traffic, someone grabbed me and forced me to the sidewalk. Thanks for coming back for me, brother.''
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or 848-1435.