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Friends, family honor Polk deputy who died of COVID-19

Chris Broadhead, 32, of Winter Haven was a father of five and a deputy for nine years.
Deputy Robert Mendez carries a folded American flag at the start of law enforcement honors for Polk County Sheriff's Office Deputy Christopher Broadhead at Victory Church in Lakeland on Monday. Broadhead died of COVID-19 on Aug. 23.
Deputy Robert Mendez carries a folded American flag at the start of law enforcement honors for Polk County Sheriff's Office Deputy Christopher Broadhead at Victory Church in Lakeland on Monday. Broadhead died of COVID-19 on Aug. 23. [ Scott Wheeler / Ledger correspondent ]
Published Aug. 30
Updated Aug. 30

LAKELAND — With heavy hearts and masked faces, local law enforcement gathered with loved ones at Victory Church in Lakeland on Monday to remember a Polk County sheriff’s deputy who died last week of COVID-19.

Related: St. Petersburg police officer dies of COVID-19 complications

Chris Broadhead, 32, of Winter Haven was a father of five and a deputy for nine years. He battled COVID-19 in the hospital for weeks before he died Aug. 23. Sheriff’s Office officials said Broadhead contracted the illness in the line of duty.

“Chris loved his job at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy, but most enjoyed his role as a homicide detective,” said the Rev. Eric Holm, chaplain for the Sheriff’s Office. “The only thing that Chris loved more than his work was his family.”

At his memorial, Polk officials and close friends shared memories of Broadhead, recollecting his leadership on and off duty.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Broadhead worked his way through different PCSO departments and looked forward to becoming a sergeant one day. He said Broadhead used to keep others focused and fed while working on investigations.

“Broadhead had a broad smile and even broader ability to make his colleagues and family laugh,” Judd said.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd presents a folded American flag to Elisa Broadhead during a memorial service for her husband, Deputy Chris Broadhead, at Victory Church in Lakeland on Monday.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd presents a folded American flag to Elisa Broadhead during a memorial service for her husband, Deputy Chris Broadhead, at Victory Church in Lakeland on Monday. [ Scott Wheeler / Ledger correspondent ]

Polk County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Tracy Smith held back tears while sharing memories of Broadhead working on his team when Smith was the robbery sergeant in 2015. Smith said Broadhead was working on the team as partners with his wife, former Deputy Elisa Broadhead, before they married.

“Chris was happy-go-lucky, smile on his face every day,” Smith said. “He made everyone around him happier, put them in a better mood. He was way above his time as a detective. He had only been in the unit a month and he was the one that everybody looked to. That’s a fact.”

Smith said he’s a Florida State Seminoles fan but wore a University of Florida Gators face mask to honor Broadhead, who he said was a big Gators fan.

Though the Sheriff’s Office hasn’t said whether Broadhead was vaccinated, Smith said others in the department have been vaccinated because of him.

Polk County Sheriff's Office Honor Guard members stand watch at the front of Victory Church in Lakeland before a memorial service for Polk Deputy Chris Broadhead on Monday. Broadhead died last week of COVID-19.
Polk County Sheriff's Office Honor Guard members stand watch at the front of Victory Church in Lakeland before a memorial service for Polk Deputy Chris Broadhead on Monday. Broadhead died last week of COVID-19. [ Scott Wheeler / Ledger correspondent ]

“We know God doesn’t make mistakes and I can tell you, I know a dozen or so people who went out and got the vaccine because of Chris,” Smith said.

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The last memories shared at the memorial came from a childhood friend of Broadhead’s, Jacob Wren, who organized a fundraiser on Go Fund Me for Broadhead on Aug. 17 while Broadhead was still fighting COVID-19 in the hospital. He said Broadhead was very smart in grade school and could’ve been anything he wanted but had a heart to be a hero, to help and protect those in need.

“As we search for meaning in this tragedy, I challenge everyone to carry out this part of Chris’ legacy,” Wren said. “When you’re hanging up the phone, ending a conversation or departing from somewhere, tell your loved ones that you love them. It’s simple but special.”

Law Enforcement honors followed the service outside where officers marched, played bagpipes, raised flags and released doves in honor of Broadhead.

The Florida Health Department offered vaccines for those at the service inside a room in the church in respect of Broadhead’s death and his impact.

Ledger reporter Rebecca Lee can be reached at Rlee3@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @RELReports.

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