05/20/2003

Loved Ones Remember the Life of 'A Cop's Cop'

Officer Down: Sgt. Charlie Calhoun - [Pasco County, Florida]

Sgt. Charlie Calhoun, 52, who died Saturday, is remembered as a stern sergeant with a big heart.

For the past decade, Pasco sheriff's detectives would show up at major crime scenes and immediately look for the green, unmarked Ford Crown Victoria.

"That was the office," Detective Jeff Bousquet said Monday. "That car was the focal point of all our investigations."

And sitting behind the wheel, calling the shots, making the assignments, pushing detectives to think smarter and dig deeper, was Sgt. Charlie Calhoun.

On Monday, detectives struggled to imagine how they will move forward without that ubiquitous green Crown Vic and, more importantly, the man they relied upon for leadership and advice, turned to as a friend, and loved like a brother.

Mr. Calhoun died unexpectedly in his sleep Saturday night (May 17, 2003) in Tupelo, Miss., while traveling with his wife to Arkansas for a family reunion. He was 52.

Mr. Calhoun and his wife, Ellie, stopped in Tupelo for the night and went to dinner at an Outback Steakhouse restaurant. Mr. Calhoun ate only a small piece of his prime rib, complaining of not feeling well.

Back at the motel room, Mr. Calhoun put on a breathing mask he used to combat his sleep apnea and closed his eyes. Minutes later, Ellie noticed her husband wasn't breathing. She tried CPR, "but he was already done," Mrs. Calhoun said.

The cause of death has yet to be determined.

"He was a great father and a great husband," Mrs. Calhoun said Monday. "He was so family-oriented. He always said he wanted to work as hard as he could to give the family everything we wanted."

Mr. Calhoun started his law enforcement career in New Jersey more than 30 years ago. He worked 12 years for the Brielle, N.J., police department, before moving his family to Florida in the early 1980s.

He worked for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office for nearly 19 years, starting as a patrol deputy and gradually rising through the ranks to become sergeant in charge of the high-profile major crimes unit. His influence hovered over every major case, from the murder of 9-year-old Sharra Ferger in Blanton to the slaying of wealthy widow Jean Schwarzkopf in New Port Richey.

"He was a cop's cop," Detective James Sessa said. "If we had a whodunnit, and we didn't have the evidence or the DNA, he pushed us to shake every bush until we got the case solved. He was old-school."

Mr. Calhoun developed close friendships with the detectives he supervised and earned the trust and admiration of the command staff above him.

"Charlie was a good all-around law enforcement officer," former Sheriff Lee Cannon said. "And he was a good all-around person. I had a lot of confidence in him.

"This is a tragedy not only for his family, but also for the law enforcement family."

There were two sides to Mr. Calhoun, colleagues said. One was a hard-driving sergeant who didn't tolerate stupidity, laziness or failure. The other was a big-hearted man who thought of his detectives as family.

"Charlie liked to think of himself as macho, but he was really a big teddy bear," Bousquet said. "He was like a big soft marshmallow."

Mr. Calhoun was a big man who constantly battled a weight problem. He recently was diagnosed with diabetes, and often announced his daily blood-sugar readings in the office.

Last week, he bought a 2003 Harley Davidson motorcycle.

And then he set off with his wife on what has become an annual trip to Arkansas for a family reunion and fish fry. He brought along his father's ashes to spread over a beloved fishing lake in Arkansas. Mr. Calhoun's father passed away earlier this year.

Hours before he died, Mr. Calhoun called Bousquet from the road. Earlier he had given Bousquet permission to ride the new motorcycle. He wanted to make sure Bousquet didn't get any wild ideas.

"He told me, "Don't put any dents in it. Don't go faster than 60,' " Bousquet recalled. "That's the way he was. He was the first person to give you anything, whether it was his bike, his advice, or an earful if you didn't do what he wanted."

Bousquet added: "This just breaks my heart. The grieving process is just now starting. My heart is just not here right now."

In addition to his wife, Mr. Calhoun is survived by a son, Donald R. Lee of Ohio; a daughter, Jill Marie Bowser of New Port Richey; a brother, David H. Calhoun of Neptune, N.J.; two sisters, Martha J. Meiloch of Asheville, N.C., and Margaret Ann Cohn of Wall, N.J.; and three grandchildren.

The family will receive visitors on Wednesday at Thomas B. Dobies Funeral Home, 6616 Congress St. in New Port Richey, from 3-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. The Sheriff's Office will perform an honor guard ceremony on Thursday at 10 a.m. on the front lawn of Dobies Funeral Home. That will be followed by a memorial service at 11 a.m. at King of Glory Lutheran Church, 4820 Floramar Terr. in New Port Richey.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Hernando-Pasco Hospice.

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