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Officers say farewell to their fallen comrade

Belleair police officer Jeffery Warren Tackett, who was alone when he bled to death in the dark late Sunday night, was surrounded by friends and fellow officers when he was buried Friday afternoon.

More than 2,000 uniformed officers and 500 civilians attended Tackett's funeral service at the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, the church Tackett had attended since he was a boy.

An hourlong procession of 500 police cruisers, motorcycles and fire engines moved through the town of Belleair and past the Belleair Police Department where Tackett had worked for five years. The young officer then was buried on a grassy knoll at Serenity Gardens on Indian Rocks Road.

The Rev. Charlie Martin, pastor of the church, spoke about Tackett's love for police work.

"I asked him how he liked police work," Martin said. "He said, "I love it. I never thought I'd be so happy doing anything.' "

Martin said he was "shocked and saddened to learn Jeff was there alone when he died."

Tackett, 28, was shot to death with his own gun as he tried to arrest a burglary suspect. He was the only officer working that shift.

Police officers from as far away as Alabama filled the church. Homestead, Dade County and Orange County were some of the more than 100 Florida agencies that sent representatives.

When all the seats in the sanctuary were filled, some took seats in the choir loft. Others lined the walls on both sides of the church.

One by one, the officers approached the open casket, which was covered with a blanket of red roses and white chrysanthemums. Many raised gloved hands to salute Tackett before turning to take their seats.

As Martin spoke and vocalists sang The Lord's Prayer and Wind Beneath My Wings, some of the officers wiped away tears.

Steve Kostas, an officer with the New Port Richey Police Department, brought his wife and mother with him to the funeral.

"I think it's necessary for all the officers to be here," Kostas said. "It shows the community that police officers stick together and the family of the deceased how important he was to us, too."

Tackett was shot in the groin while investigating a burglary at the Pelican Place condominium complex. A few hours after he bled to death several feet from the complex, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office arrested Lorenzo Lamar Jenkins, 31, on a street in downtown Clearwater. Jenkins, who was staying at 1602 N Fort Harrison Ave., was charged with first-degree murder. He is being held without bail in the Pinellas County Jail.

At Friday's service, Tackett's family sat in the front pew of the crowded church. Largo police Officer Allen Arntzen, a close friend of the family, was continuously by the side of Tackett's wife of one year, Alice. Tackett also is survived by his brother, Kenneth, whom Martin described as Jeffery Tackett's childhood partner; his mother, Fredia Warren Tackett; his father, Bobby Ray Tackett; his paternal grandmother; and his maternal grandfather.

Three rows behind the family were Belleair's town officials, State Attorney Bernie McCabe and Belleair police Chief Harry Gwynne.

Perhaps Belleair's most celebrated resident, wrestler and movie star Hulk Hogan, also attended the funeral service. Instead of the colorful costumes Hogan wears on screen, he wore a black bandana around his long yellow hair, a black shirt and black pants.

At the 121-year-old cemetery, about 10 rows of police officers formed a square around Tackett's gravesite. After a 21-gun salute by seven Clearwater officers, a breeze carried the sounds of bagpiper Sandy Keith's Amazing Grace and Flowers Of The Forest through the crowd. Keith is a retired Canadian police officer.

Nearby, an elderly woman sat atop a tombstone, blotting away tears as seven police helicopters flew in formation over the cemetery. The next-to-the-last helicopter flew out of formation symbolizing the loss of Tackett.

After the brief graveside ceremony, Scott Dunn of Largo led his wife, Jocelyn, away in tears. Mrs. Dunn had been a bridesmaid in the Tacketts' wedding.

Dunn said they often had heard Tackett discuss the dangers of his job.

"He wanted more people on duty with him," Mrs. Dunn said. "He shouldn't have been alone."

In public statements since Tackett's death, Gwynne has defended the town's policy of having only one officer patrol the streets after dark.

At the church, Martin described Tackett as a "people person. If he ever had any bad grudges or bad feelings about anybody, no one ever knew it."

He told the family that the crowd "is so large, people will not be able to get to you to say what's in their hearts, so I'm going to say it for them. We love you. We care for you. You will be in our prayers."

_ Staff writer Lisa Pelamati contributed to this report.

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