‘A good and faithful servant’

July 11th, 2011 by Staff

SPRING HILL John Mecklenburg was indelibly happy in a career that brought him face-to-face with evil almost daily.

He once arrested a suspect only to graciously call him on the phone the next day to check on him.

“You are the nicest law enforcement officer I have ever met,” the man said to him.

Mecklenburg’s commander and friend, Lt. Harold Hutchinson told a packed church that story Friday.

He said Mecklenburg was always smiling and always appreciative of what he had. He brought joy to his friends, family and co-workers.

When a task needed to be done, he didn’t want anyone else to be bothered.

“I got this,” was his motto.

Hutchinson paused a few times to hold back his tears.

“John was definitely one of the good guys,” he said.

He said getting the call before dawn Sunday that Mecklenburg crashed his patrol car during a high-speed chase outside Masaryktown was the start of one of the worst days of his career.

Mecklenburg was airlifted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, but doctors were unable to save him.

Hutchinson vowed to his friend’s widow, seated in the front pew, that he and the sheriff’s office would always be there for her and her family.

He told deputies to remember their fallen friend and approach their jobs the way he did – with love and appreciation.

“Be infectious,” he told them. “Smile and hug the ones you love. Tell them how much you love them. But above all, be one of the good guys.”

Hundreds of hardened police officers and deputies filled the pews at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Spring Hill. Many couldn’t keep from crying as Hutchinson spoke.

Mecklenburg, a U.S. Army veteran, joined the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office in January 2009. The Wisconsin native graduated from Springstead High School in Spring Hill. He is survived by his wife, Penny, a teacher at Hernando High School, and two children, 4-year-old Andrew and 20-month-old Jessica.

Sgt. Brian McGinnis was Mecklenburg’s patrol supervisor. He told the congregation he struggled with the task of thinking of the right words to say for his eulogy.

The previous night, while he and his wife were having dinner, they were approached by a local doctor who knew Mecklenburg.

He told McGinnis a story about how Mecklenburg was visiting him at the hospital when one of his female patients, a new mother, instantly underwent a medical emergency.

Moments before nurses swooped in, Mecklenburg scooped the infant from the patient’s arms and held it while medical care professionals tended to the woman.

The doctor was so moved he pulled out his camera phone and snapped a photograph of Mecklenburg cradling the baby.

The words quickly started coming to McGinnis.

After he told that story to the congregation, he gave a copy of the photograph to Mecklenburg’s widow.

“John, the servant, could not serve and could not give enough,” said McGinnis.

He told an emotional family that Mecklenburg “clung to life” as best he could Sunday morning. He wanted to make sure Sgt. Brandon Ross, who was injured during the same high-speed chase, was OK. McGinnis said he wanted to make sure everyone – especially his family – was OK before he took his last breaths.

“This was the last great act of servitude John Mecklenburg did before he went to go home with God,” he said.

He referred to his friend’s penchant for always saying “I got it.”

Before he left the altar, he prayed to his friend and told him, “Rest in peace – because now we got it.”

A cavalcade of police and deputy cruisers with flashing blue and red lights snaked south along Mariner Boulevard and east on Spring Hill Drive to Florida Memorial Gardens, where Mecklenburg was buried. Deputies from Pasco and Sumter counties directed traffic.

Among those attending the Funeral Mass was Gov. Rick Scott, as well as hundreds of law enforcement officers from across West Central Florida and beyond.

The suspect deputies said led law enforcement on the deadly high-speed chase Sunday was charged with murder, attempted murder and other charges. He was arrested by the Florida Highway Patrol in Pinellas County and is being held without bail at the Hernando County Jail.

Also among the eulogizers Friday was Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis.

“We are gathered here with broken hearts, but not broken spirits,” he said.

He called Mecklenburg “a true hero” and promised deputies would never forget him or his legacy.

“The amazing thing today is not how such a good man was taken from us so soon, but rather how a man so good lived among us at all,” Nienhuis said.


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