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In Hernando County, 'a good man, a good police officer' is laid to rest

SPRING HILL — Adie Svoboda sat on a grassy hillside along U.S. 19, hoping to catch a glimpse of the funeral procession honoring a man she knew only from recent news reports.

Hernando sheriff's Capt. Scott Bierwiler had become a hero to Svoboda after he died in a head-on collision Feb. 19, leaving behind a wife and three children.

So, on her day off as a cashier at Publix, Svoboda came to pay her respects.

"I wanted to show my support to his wife and family," said Svoboda, who tucked a large American flag under her arm. "They've been through an awful lot."

From an overflow crowd of mourners at St. Theresa Catholic Church, to hundreds of residents who lined the 10-mile route to the cemetery, Hernando County said its final goodbye to Bierwiler on Wednesday.

About 700 family members, friends and fellow law enforcement officers from throughout Florida packed the church and nearby fellowship hall to pay tribute to Bierwiler, 42, who died after an early-morning collision with a sport utility vehicle driven by 16-year-old Andrew Frank Morris.

Authorities said Morris of Weeki Wachee crossed the center line on Powell Road south of Brooksville as Bierwiler was on his way to work. Morris remained in fair condition Wednesday at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

Solemn onlookers watched as Bierwiler's white casket was brought into the church. Sprays of flowers surrounded the candlelit altar. Nearby, a portrait showed Bierwiler flashing a familiar smile.

The Rev. James McAteer, pastor of St. Theresa, spoke of the fallen officer during the Mass.

"He was a good man, a good police officer, a good father and a good citizen," McAteer said of Bierwiler, a 22-year veteran of the agency who some believed was destined to become the next Hernando sheriff.

When the 90-minute service ended, many of the mourners joined in the procession along U.S. 19 and Spring Hill Drive to Florida Hills Memorial Gardens.

Among them was a five-member unit from the Fair Lawn (N.J.) Police Department.

With sweat streaming down their faces, the men silently saluted the man who several years ago helped track down a man who murdered one of their colleagues. Unit Cmdr. Robert Kneer said it was an honor to be there.

"We knew him as 'Scotty,' a.k.a. Burt Reynolds," said Kneer, a nickname stemming from a bushy mustache Bierwiler wore. "He meant a lot to the people of New Jersey. We drove 2,000 miles to get here, but we'd have come 100,000 miles if it were necessary."

That sentiment seemed evident along Spring Hill Drive, where residents stood on sidewalks, benches and in the backs of pickups to honor Bierwiler, the son of a man who had been a longtime Hernando sheriff's official.

As the procession approached the cemetery, it passed under an archway formed by two ladder trucks from Spring Hill Fire Rescue. With flashing lights on and sirens off, law enforcement vehicles ushered in the nearly mile-long stream.

Officers, local political officials and other guests gathered around the flag-draped casket, wiping away tears and stifling sniffles as they somberly recited the Lord's Prayer.

Sheriff Richard Nugent presented the American flag to Bierwiler's widow, leading into a 21-gun salute and a stirring helicopter flyover. An officer played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.

In one of the most poignant moments, deputies and officers broke into heavy sobs and embraced one another as the final radio call for "Commander 106" crackled over loudspeakers.

"He was a true professional but a lot of fun to socialize with," said Brooksville police Chief George Turner, who said he played golf with Bierwiler every Wednesday. "We all lost a good friend."

Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-1435. Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson[email protected] or (352) 754-6120.

In Hernando County, 'a good man, a good police officer' is laid to rest 02/25/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 27, 2009 10:10am]
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