SPRING HILL — Paul Warren stood in the rain next to two fire trucks hoisting an American flag high above the intersection of Spring Hill Drive and Barclay Avenue.
"Just paying my respects to a hero," he said, needing no other reason to brave the wind and rain on a melancholy Friday.
He and dozens of others waited, soaked and hushed, for the funeral procession for Deputy John Mecklenburg to arrive.
The crowds braved the inclement weather to line the streets between St. Frances Cabrini Church on Mariner Boulevard and Florida Hills Memorial Park to bid farewell to the deputy who died Sunday when his car hit a tree during a high-speed chase.
James Bransfield, standing in soaked jean shorts and a red polo, held an American flag and smoked Marlboro cigarettes to stay warm. Having just moved to Spring Hill from Maine a week ago, he read about the deputy's death in Monday's newspaper.
The Army veteran and former firefighter had heard Mecklenburg was a good man, and he wanted to show his support.
"I'm sure," Bransfield said, "he would have done the same for me."
At the cemetery, bagpipe players practiced their notes as deputies who had arrived in advance of the procession stood about with an air of somber anticipation. A riderless horse waited calmly for its deployment.
A gaggle of Hernando County Explorers helped park cars, grabbing hats to shield themselves from the rain. Deputy Jason Deso, their adviser, crossed his arms as he supervised the young men and women.
Raindrops clung to his eyebrows like the pall of the day's occasion as he glanced at the burial site. He noted the number of funerals recently for fallen officers in the Tampa Bay area.
"We've had too many of these recently," he said.
Nearby, the sodden American flag flapped wetly in the wind. Shortly before the procession reached the intersection, a wind gust snagged the flag on a ladder.
A firefighter clambered up the ladder to untangle it, and the crowd responded with a hearty cheer.
Staff photojournalist Will Vragovic contributed to this report. Melvin Backman can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.