A veteran law enforcement captain died in a head-on collision this morning with a 16-year-old driver who wrote an open letter online cautioning others to be careful when driving.
Hernando County sheriff’s Capt. Scott Bierwiler, 42, died about 5:45 a.m., when a 2002 Mitsubishi Montero smashed head-on into his 1999 Ford Crown Victoria on Powell Road.
The father of two daughters and a son, Bierwiler had been driving to work and was in the habit of arriving early. He has supervised the Operations Bureau, which includes patrol, aviation and canine units, since January 2008.
Hernando Sheriff Rich Nugent fought back tears today as he described speaking with Bierwiler’s mother and family to offer condolences. He called the captain a “consummate professional.”
“This is not how you expect for this to happen,” Nugent said. “It’s a loss for the community, for the agency and for his family.”
The Florida Highway Patrol said Andrew Frank Morris of Weeki Wachee was driving the Mitsubishi, which crossed from the westbound lanes into eastbound traffic.
Morris, a student at nearby Nature Coast High School, was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa. Troopers said he is in serious but stable condition.
The highway patrol said Morris’ mother owns the Mitsubishi; investigators were sorting out whether he had permission to use it.
Routine tests are being conducted to determine whether Morris was under the influence of alcohol.
According to his profile on the online social network MySpace, Morris is an only child who has competed on the school’s wrestling and cross-country teams.
In November, he posted an open letter on the page in reference to 10 people he knew who had had died.
“Listen up, this year has been a very hard year for ALOT of people. The reasons why? Well, everyone is getting into car accidents, drugs are killing them, or suicides,” he wrote.
He urged readers to be kind to each other: “[M]ake the world a better place so when it’s your time to go people will be like, ‘Hey he/she did a great thing for me the other day.'”
Morris also wrote for his friends to be careful when driving: “[W]hen you get in your car to drive somewhere, or to drive someone else somewhere, be aware of your surroundings. Do not have the music too loud, or be messing with your cell phone or iPod. Please, this is important to say that hundreds of people die a year from car crashes. Do not get into a car with someone who has been drinking. Listen, please be careful out there and before someone you love gets severely injured or killed in a car crash or suicide.”
Morris’ neighbor, Linda Peterson, said the teenager was helpful and would do small jobs such as feeding their cat and yard work.
“He’s a good kid,” she said.
Morris was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, but the captain was, troopers said.
Gerald Kline, whose backyard abuts Powell Road and California Street, said he called 911 after hearing the crash. He said arriving deputies were devastated to find one of their supervisors was involved.
“They were all tore up,” he said.
Deputy Steve Klapka, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, remembered his longtime friend as a “gentleman’s gentleman.”
It was Bierwiler who influenced Klapka to move from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in 1987 to a budding town called Spring Hill. After a few hours riding patrol with Bierwiler – who was just fresh out of training – Klapka was impressed with his positive attitude.
“I’ve been proud to know him from that day forward,” a tearful Klapka said.
Bierwiler was well-liked as a supervisor because he never forgot his roots in patrol. From his rise from sergeant, to lieutenant to captain, “he treated everyone the same,” Klapka said.
Bierwiler’s reputation extended beyond Hernando County’s borders. Today, Klapka was fielding calls from police union chapters across Central Florida expressing their condolences.
Bierwiler spent the weekend at the Daytona 500 with his 9-year-son, Scottie, Nugent said. Survivors also include his wife, Angie, and daughters Kayla, 18, and Kiley, 16.
A native of Cold Spring, N.Y., Bierwiler joined the sheriff’s office as a deputy in 1986. He was one of a select few law enforcement officers across the country to graduate last year from a three-month class at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Jim Powers said.
He received several awards during his career, including one for helping track down a man who shot and killed a New Jersey police officer in 2003.
Many at the sheriff’s office felt close to Bierwiler because the new Emergency Operations Center is named for his father, Sgt. Frank Bierwiler, a former public information officer for the agency.
“We’ve been a family for a long time,” Nugent said. Now Bierwiler “is at rest and is in the arms of his father in heaven.”