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Keeping Grant Whitaker's memory alive

Posted: 10:49 AM, Dec 08, 2015
Updated: 2015-12-08 15:49:23Z

It's a reality none of them thought they'd have to live through, one of their own killed in the line of duty.

"He was a real likable young man, one of those guys that was kind of a jokester, throwing quips at you all the time," said Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth.

"Grant had the sky's the limit potential here. He loved what he did, he looked good at what he did, he was a great police officer, he did a great job at it, had the dedication, came early, stayed late, wanted to please you, wanted to do it right," Deputy Whitaker's supervisor, Lt. Steve Sopocy, added. "If Grant wanted to be the Sheriff one day, that could've been the potential for Grant."

But, Deputy Whitaker will never have the chance to reach that potential.

On the early morning of December 7, 2014, his patrol car crashed into a tree, while he was engaged in a high-speed chase, and he died.

Deputy Rick Hoeksema took us back to that night. "There's this hazard in the middle of the road and he hadn't said anything about it. And, that's when some of the realizations started to sink in and I went back and found his car."

Deputy Hoeksema initiated the chase that night. A night, just like any other that became one he wouldn't forget.

"It's a reminder that we're not invincible, we're human just like anybody else. And, we can get hurt and we can die just like anyone else," he said.

Since that night, the driver, John Kelsey, was quickly caught, arrested, tried and sentenced, due in part to Deputy Hoeksema's testimony.

"That two syllable word 'guilty,' it was an immense feeling of relief. And, I can remember hearing that and listening to the jury foreman say that. And, just an audible sigh of relief, you know, nobody jumped and whooped and hollered, it was just an audible sigh of relief," Deputy Hoeksema recalled.

That sigh was felt throughout the Sheriff's Office, as months later, they were still trying to heal.

"Everybody loved Grant, he hit it off right from the get-go as fitting in and everybody enjoyed working with Grant. So, every night it was like something was missing," Lt. Sopocy said.

And his night shift unit continues to honor Grant, from the training room dedicated to his legacy to his photo on their uniform to Deputy Whitaker's name forever on their shift log.

"It's the little things like that, it's the talking about Grant, it's the when you're eating subway subs, because Grant loved to eat Subway subs, you know, that you remember Grant," Lt. Sopocy explained. "He's one of our brothers, he's one of us, he will always be one of us."

Remembered now in stories.

Deputy Whitaker's co-workers told us staying in touch with his family has helped the healing process. They've visited Grant's grave, put memorials at the crash site, and spent weekends together.