Funeral procession for fallen deputy brings out first responders of all industries

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CLEVELAND (LIBERTY COUNTY), TEXAS- Although rain wasn’t in the forecast, it is seemingly appropriate that a light rain began falling just before the procession began, and subsided just afterwards.

Funeral procession for fallen deputy brings out first responders of all industries

Liberty County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Whitten was laid to rest today, and the attendance and participation in his funeral and procession was nothing short of staggering.  It was a truly humbling experience to witness.

Funeral procession for beloved deputy brings out first responders of all industries

Deputy Whitten was shot in the neck last year by a murder suspect during an incident in Cleveland, a small town northwest of Houston.  He was recovering and in the rehabilitation process and doing well, according to medical personnel, but suffered a heart attack during physical therapy last week.

Funeral procession for beloved deputy brings out first responders of all industries

Deputy Whitten was just named Officer of the Year by the Houston Area 100 Club.  He left behind his wife and two children.

Funeral procession for beloved deputy brings out first responders of all industries

The incredible turnout for this procession brought in law enforcement personnel from all over the state of Texas and some from as far away as Louisiana.  Another remarkable factor was the droves of people lining the street and blocking traffic from several fire departments and two county towing companies.

Funeral procession for beloved deputy brings out first responders of all industries

While observing the procession involving well over 500 emergency responder and private vehicles, I spoke with Dale Fowler of Smith Towing.  Dale is retired Army and has worked with Smith Towing for about 3 years.  His words proved to me exactly what Deputy Whitten meant to him and his company, as well as what type of deputy and man Richard Whitten was.

Funeral procession for beloved deputy brings out first responders of all industries

I asked Dale what this meant to him.  His reply was straight-forward, as I’d expect from a Texan and veteran. 

“We all washed our trucks and came out today to honor this man,” Fowler began.  “Deputy Whitten was a great guy – he worked with us really well, and would drop by our shop and shoot the breeze with us and give us a hard time.  We lost a good man.”

The rain was appropriate, and we can thank the Lord for it.  There are tears being shed for an outstanding deputy, husband, father, and first responder today, and those tears are spread throughout the first responder community in Liberty County.

In case you missed it, here was the tragic back story.

Deputy Richard Whitten, who had survived being shot last year, died this week.

Deputy Whitten was in a physical therapy session this Monday when he collapsed.  He was said to have suffered from a heart attack, and revival efforts failed at the clinic.

In May of 2019, Deputy Whitten was paralyzed when he was shot in the neck by murder suspect Pavol Vido, 65 years old, who had already killed a woman and shot 2 others. 

The Deputy had spent the last 6 months at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston and was hopeful that he would be going home soon. 

Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader said:

“He was improving and in good spirits some days ago…it was really a shock that this happened today. We were not expecting that.” 

The Sheriff called Deputy Whitten to tell him that he had been selected to be the Officer of the Year by the 100 Club.  Unfortunately, he didn’t get the opportunity to tell him of his award.  Deputy Whitten will still be honored as Officer of the Year.

Last September, Deputy Whitten spoke to reporters at Bluebonnet News about the incident and his recovery.  His “upbeat” attitude was admirable, as was his message.  During the interview, Deputy Whitten said:

“I know the odds are that I am not going to get out of here in the condition I want to be, but I still feel blessed. I am a God-fearing man. I believe that He is going to do for me whatever needs to be done. I pray to Him all the time.”

Deputy Whitten added:

“Life has changed but I am not dead.”

The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office released the following statement after Deputy Whitten’s death:

“It is with deep sorrow that Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader announced that Deputy Richard Whitten passed away with what, at this time, appears to be a heart attack late this afternoon while he was in physical therapy at a Houston Medical Center facility.

Last year Deputy Whitten was shot in the neck while attempting to apprehend an armed murder suspect who had just shot and killed a woman and then shot two males at a business location in mid-Liberty County.”

After Vido shot Deputy Whitten, he kept authorities looking for him for hours before shooting and killing himself. 

It was reported that Deputy Whitten had confronted Vido while off-duty, as he was apparently on his way to training.  He spotted Vido and attempted to pull him over about a mile from the original shooting scene.

When he spoke to Bluebonnet News, he said of hearing the shooting incident over his police radio:

“It still took a minute for it to register with me. This is something that doesn’t happen in Liberty County. I had just passed the place where it happened, so I responded. I did what I had to do, and got shot, but it’s like I told my wife, I would do it all over again.”

Like a true hero.

Deputy Whitten pursued the suspect into an alley behind a veterinarian clinic.  The Deputy stepped out of the car with his gun out, and so did Vido.  They were joined by bystanders leaving the vet clinic.

Deputy Whitten told reporters:

“I worried that if I took a shot and one of the [bystanders] was injured, then I was liable, but I kept my focus on him [Vido]. He was acting really strange.

He opened his car door, turned sideways in the seat and put his feet on the ground. I hollered at him a couple of times to show me his hands. T

he next thing I knew he pulled a gun up on his right side – the side I couldn’t see – and shot at me, hitting me right in the neck.

When he pulled that pistol up to fire at me, he never really aimed. It appeared that he had a lot of training in the past.

I heard rumors later that he was ex-special forces and defected to the U.S., but I can’t say if that rumor is true or not. It definitely seemed like he had a lot of training in the past.”

Deputy Whitten was instantly paralyzed from the gunshot wound.

Another officer was on scene with him and exchanged gunfire with Vido, who fled the scene.

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Deputy Whitten had recalled to Bluebonnet News about receiving medical care from Deputy Constable Laci Pierce, a former military medic.  He told reporters:

“Thank God she knew what she was doing. No one even knew I was shot at first. When Laci figured it out, she wrapped my neck in bandages to stop the bleeding and then called for LifeFlight.

I was conscious. I know this is going to sound crazy, but from the moment I was shot and fell to the ground, I was at peace. When I say that, I mean I wasn’t panicking.”

Deputy Whitten had been with the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office for 4 years.  Deputy Whitten is survived by his wife of 14 years, Kami Heard Whitten, and their two children.

Sheriff Rader and friends of Deputy Whitten said that he had been improving in physical therapy and had been working very hard to be able to return home. 

The bullet Vido shot into the Deputy was lodged into a vertebrae, causing paralysis.  Following surgery, several fragments were still in his spine.  He was slowly regaining use of his right arm and hand.

The Sheriff said Deputy Whitten was a hero, and added:

“He was making big improvements. This was shocking.”

I would have to agree with the Sheriff calling Deputy Whitten a hero:

“I enjoyed working in the community,” the Deputy said in September, “trying to get rid of the bad guys so it would be a safer place for everyone else to live.  

I really enjoyed my job. I don’t know how to say this, but I ate, drank and breathed law enforcement.  My goal is to come back, but it could take two years. Granted, I don’t know in what capacity, but I will be back.”

Rest easy, Deputy Whitten.  We’ll take it from here.

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