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December 06, 2007
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Fla. deputies laid to rest

Related: 2 Fla. deputies killed by cruiser during pursuit

By Jerome Burdi, Leon Fooksman, and Angel Streeter
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Deputies Donta Manuel and Jonathan Wallace got one last Sunday service as they lay in oak coffins Wednesday before thousands who got swept up in tambourine-waving, gospel-belting and dancing in the aisles.

Stone-faced police officers from Tallahassee to Key West who came to mourn the latest colleagues killed in the line of duty tapped their patent leathers and bobbed their heads in a jubilant send-off for two religious friends who worked together and died together.

"I've been to many funerals that were supposed to be celebrations. This is the first one I've felt that it was a celebration," said Palm Beach County Sheriff's Capt. Gregory Richter, drawing applause from more than 6,000 mourners at the Sound Advice Amphitheatre west of West Palm Beach.

A week after a fellow deputy struck and killed them on a darkened road south of Pahokee, friends and police officers remembered Manuel, 33, and Wallace, 23, for their dedication to improving their impoverished Pahokee, living by the words of the Scripture and watching one another in the tough streets of the Glades. Manuel was to be best man in Wallace's August wedding.

The two were the fifth and sixth law-enforcement officers killed this year in South Florida.

Manuel, a tall, imposing man known as "The Tree," was a comforting presence for deputies out on a police call. He showed up and everything was going to be all right, said Lt. Tammy Bussey.

"You knew 'The Tree' had arrived," Bussey said.

Wallace, though, liked to sing and write plays for his mother's Harvest AME Church in Pahokee, friends said. Once, he put on a skit on a whim, bringing everybody to laughter.

"The boy was funny," said Jimmy Thompson, a presiding elder from the Central District of Central Conference of African Methodist Episcopal Church.

With the wind blowing under blue skies, bagpipers began the memorial shortly after 10 a.m. as Manuel's and Wallace's flag-draped coffins arrived in two hearses emblazoned with sheriff's emblems. Gov. Charlie Crist and Sheriff Ric Bradshaw embraced Manuel's wife, Suzette Parrish-Manuel and Wallace's mother, the Rev. Patricia Wallace, offering sympathies.

Two groups of officers wheeled the caskets behind two riderless horses — signifying fallen officers — down the theater's center aisle. Hundreds of officers stood at attention as a long procession of teary-eyed family and friends followed somberly.

Parrish-Manuel and the Rev. Wallace sat in the front, not far from Deputy Gregorio Fernandez, whose cruiser accidentally hit and killed Manuel and Wallace. He broke into tears as he embraced the deputies' families.

"I want to assure Suzette and Patricia and Erica [Bass, Wallace's fiancee], most especially, that it will all be all right because these brave men are in a better place now," Crist said. "That will give you comfort. They are with God."

Bradshaw did not speak at the service to allow time for local ministers, who told family and officers that heartbroken Pahokee will recover because the whole world is supporting it.

"Our town has never experienced this level of pain, grief and sorrow in its history," Thompson said. "We are not grieving alone. Palm Beach County, the state of Florida, the country and the global community share our grief.

"Though our foundation is shaken, we are still standing," he said.

Sadness gripped the Glades on Nov. 28 when Fernandez, a canine deputy, slammed into Wallace and Manuel on State Road 715 as they tried to remove tire-deflating spikes from the road. Fernandez and other deputies were chasing a stolen car from Belle Glade. Investigators determined the two deputies should have used a cord to jerk the spikes off the roadway. The cord was found in one of their cruisers.

Deputies caught one of the alleged car thieves, Ernie Daley, 19, and still are looking for a second suspect.

Each time the crowd choked back tears Wednesday morning, the Pahokee Community Choir broke in with rousing rhythms that had mourners banging tambourines, singing along and waving their hands. Wallace's brother, Jeremy, played drums, bringing back the rhythms each time they trailed off.

Most of the 13 speakers in the 3 1/2 -hour service were clergy who knew both families and worshiped with them. Still, no matter how rousing the music and oratory, the four deputies standing over the caskets never flinched. The honor guard changed each 20 minutes through the service.

"Nobody overcomes a tragedy like that," said Deloris Williams, another member of Wallace's family. "Even Jesus wept."

Hundreds of people — many waving, hats off and hands over their hearts — lined the procession route from the South Florida Fairgrounds to Port Mayaca Cemetery in Martin County, near Lake Okeechobee.

After the families arrived at the cemetery, it took 40 minutes for the hundreds of officers in the miles-long procession to reach the grave site. They lined up for as far as the eye could see.

At 4 p.m., officers were called to attention one last time.

Once Thompson offered a few last words, Bradshaw handed Patricia Wallace and Parrish-Manuel the flags from the coffins and gave three flags to Wallace's children. Bagpipes wailed, a bugler played taps and a squadron of six helicopters flew over in the missing-man formation, one peeling away and heading off on its own.

Breaking the silence, police radios crackled for a final time with the deputies' last call in.

For Parrish-Manuel, it was too much.

"We're almost at the end of this, Suzette," Wallace said to the widow, barely able to stand. "The boys need you now. Follow me. You'll never walk alone."

She and the boys walked away, crying.

Copyright 2007 The South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Full story: Fla. deputies laid to rest






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