Jacksonville, FL – Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Police Officer Lance Whitaker died in the line of duty early Tuesday morning, as he was traveling to the scene of another motor vehicle crash.
Officer Whitaker, 48, was responding to the scene of a traffic collision on Interstate 295 at approximately 4:30 a.m., when his patrol car veered from the road, and slammed into a tree, WJXT reported.
"[He was] trying to respond to help someone else and then finds himself in that position," Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said. “It's part of the inherent risk that every police officer in the country faces every day. And it's just, unfortunately, hit home here today.”
“Officer Whitaker’s oath was to serve and protect those in his community, and he died in pursuit of that mission,” Sheriff Williams added. “My heart goes out to all who knew him and to a community that lost a devoted public servant.”
Weather conditions may have been a factor in the single-vehicle crash, and the Florida Highway Patrol was handling the investigation, he said.
"If you're going to get hurt in this job, one of the main ways you are going to get hurt is in traffic," Sheriff Williams said. “It's another reminder of the risk that the men, women of JSO take on every day when they come to this job. It's not just a tagline and a talking point. It doesn't get any more real than this ... [It's] a tough day for us."
Officer Whitaker, a 17-year veteran of the department, became interested in becoming a law enforcement officer after he went on a ride-along with a friend, WJAX reported.
The officer discussed his experience when he appeared on an episode of “Cops” 14 years ago.
"What kind of got me hooked was the call I went on with him was a burglary-in-progress,” Officer Whitaker told the television show. “There was a couple units with us. We went there. They were kicking in doors to try to apprehend suspects."
"After that, all the fun, excitement, basically is why I wanted to get into law enforcement," he said.
Officer Whitaker went on to land his first law enforcement job at the Atlantic Beach Police Department, where he remained for three years, WJAX reported.
“He was a great partner to have on the street, an all-around good officer," Atlantic Beach Police Commander Tiffany Layson recalled. "He had all the right intentions, he was here to help people and to arrest bad guys."
"He was always the big, bold guy with the big smile," she said. "He would try to solve anybody's problems. I think he's irreplaceable."
Officer Whitaker was engaged to be married, and leaves behind a 14-year-old son, his fiancé, Shannon Lien told WJAX.
She said he was also like a father to her three children.
“I don’t know how I’m going to move forward," Lien said on Wednesday. "I don't know how any of us are going to move forward. But I know that he’s with us, he’s in heaven watching over all of us."
Lien said that the community’s support in the wake of Officer Whitaker’s death has been astonishing.
"I already knew how much people love Lance, but seeing it through the community has just been wonderful," she explained. "He’s a wonderful man and he’s going to be missed so, so much."
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Police Officer Lance Whitaker both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here