SPRING HILL — Angie Bierwiler turned on the television 11 years ago when she first heard that Hank Earl Carr was holed up in a Hernando County convenience store with a hostage after killing his girlfriend's son and three law enforcement officers.
"I see Scott's patrol car pull right up in front of the store,'' she said.
Scott was her husband, Scott Bierwiler, 42, a Hernando sheriff's sergeant. But the situation did not worry her.
"I guess that I felt like everyone else did, that he was going to handle it,'' Mrs. Bierwiler, 40, said. "He just stood out there with a notepad and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and organized the whole county.''
That calm air of authority made Bierwiler seem perfect for the job he'd always wanted and seemed likely to assume one day — Hernando County sheriff.
It also made his death even more shocking.
Bierwiler, by then a captain, finally encountered circumstances he couldn't control at 5:45 a.m. on Feb. 19, just minutes after kissing his sleeping wife on the forehead and leaving their home in a quiet gated community.
On an otherwise empty, two-lane highway, his unmarked Ford was struck head-on by an SUV that veered into his lane. The Florida Highway Patrol has not yet completed its investigation or decided whether to charge the SUV's driver, 16-year-old Andrew Morris.
The outpouring of grief was immediate.
His funeral drew a crowd of more than 700 mourners, including law enforcement officers from as far away as New Jersey. His co-workers placed a wreath on the door of his office.
The sympathy cards she received fill a large, red shopping bag. Among them are notes from Robert Mueller III, the director of the FBI, and a woman who remembered that Bierwiler had recovered and personally returned her stolen La-Z-Boy 20 years ago.
During the funeral procession, the roads were lined with hundreds of residents waving and holding signs. "I explained to the kids, that's the way your father made them feel — that they mattered,'' she said.
All of this, Angie Bierwiler said, has been a great comfort to her, daughters Kayla, 18, and Kiley, 16, and 10-year-old son, Scott Jr. She is extremely grateful for it, she said, and for the support of deputies who have taken care of the family's every need.
"I told the kids it's like they have 50 fathers and I have 200 husbands,'' she said.
But she talked to a reporter on Wednesday because she said she wanted people to know her husband was not just a deputy. He was also a devoted father and husband.
Her greatest comfort, she said, "is to know that Scott loved the kids and me more than anything else in the world and that for 20 years we had a great marriage.''
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Maybe it makes sense that many people saw him only as a law enforcement officer.
It's all he ever wanted to be. As a boy, he begged his now-deceased father, a former New York State Police officer and Hernando sheriff's sergeant, to flick the siren of his patrol car when he pulled into the driveway. Once he accidently shot off his dad's service revolver.
He was focused on becoming sheriff from the time he signed on with the Sheriff's Office and met Angie, a dispatcher a few months out of high school.
He seemed to seek out big cases and soon accumulated a thick file of commendations. As a detective, he helped build the case against serial killer Bernard "Michael'' Kaprat in 1993. A decade later, on Easter morning, he helped chase down a man wanted for killing a New Jersey police officer.
In the middle of the chase, Bierwiler took the time to pick up his cell phone.
"He called to tell me, 'I'm in a shoot-out. I just wanted to let you know so you wouldn't hear it from somebody else,' '' she said.
She told him to be careful and drove the kids to church.
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He wasn't one of those fathers who came to every soccer practice. That was her job, she said, and he worked too many hours for that.
Instead, she said, "he did the fun stuff.''
He and his best friend at the Sheriff's Office, Lt. Billy Beetz, and their families went boating on the Gulf of Mexico nearly every weekend. When Scott Jr. took an interest in NASCAR, his father learned the names of all the drivers and, a few days before his death, took him to the Daytona 500.
Her husband's idea of an perfect evening, she said, was to sit on the porch, watch the kids swim, smoke cigarettes and talk to his wife and their friends.
"Frivolous for us was dinner at Beef O'Brady's.''
• • •
There's another reason it's hard to separate his public and private life.
His dedication and his bravery left his family an example they're depending on now.
Yes, she said, she collapsed with grief when two of his best and oldest friends at the Sheriff's Office showed up at the door to deliver the news.
And, yes, the first week or so, she said, "was surreal. You couldn't believe that he wasn't going to just walk through the door.''
But they are getting through this, she said, as he would have — by doing their duty and being strong.
The children have returned to school, with her son insisting on going the same way they always did, though he sometimes cries when they pass the site of the accident.
Angie Bierwiler has returned to her part-time job as a clerk at the Sheriff's Office and works hard to keep her composure. On Wednesday, she was neatly dressed in a pant suit and her house was tidy. It would have been hard to guess what she had been through.
"But it's got to come out sometimes,'' she said. "I go to the cemetery and that's my quiet time. Things aren't so pretty there.''