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Group gathers to celebrate 25th anniversary

Bryan Pricher remembers the night his father didn't come home. It was a Friday. He was 10.

Tampa police Sgt. Gary Pricher had been at a SWAT team competition with his co-workers in Orlando on Nov. 4, 1983. On the way back to Tampa, they saw a bus with a flat tire and stopped to help.

"A truck swerved off the road, heading right for them," Pricher said. "My dad pushed a couple people out of the way, and the truck hit him."

The driver had been drinking. Pricher died instantly.

Now a pilot for JetBlue Airways Corp., Pricher thanked members of the Gold Shield Foundation on Wednesday for their support.

About 400 members and beneficiaries gathered at A La Carte Pavilion to celebrate its 25th year.

"Every year, just knowing they were around, it was kind of like having my dad still in my life," said Pricher, who was one of the first recipients.

He remembers toys and $100 savings bonds at Christmas and payments for books and a computer while he attended the Naval Academy.

The nonprofit group provides education for the survivors of law enforcement officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Guest speaker Gov.-elect Charlie Crist thanked the officers for their courage.

Also in attendance was New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who started the foundation in 1981. Through fundraisers and donations, it now has more than $2-million in assets.

Each Christmas, the foundation sends $100 savings bonds to the children of fallen police officers and firefighters.

Eight-year-old Brian Litz Jr. will get his second Christmas savings bond this year. His father, Brian Litz Sr., was a Marion County canine unit deputy.

In February 2004, Litz made a routine check at the home of a 74-year-old man at the request of his family. The man turned out to be mentally ill and shot Litz through a window, said his widow, Cherie Litz. Funds from the foundation will pay for her nursing degree.

Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at edyer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3321.

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