SUMTER, SC (WIS) - Hundreds of people packed a Sumter church Wednesday to celebrate the life of a Sumter police officer killed in the line of duty Friday.
Funeral services were held Wednesday morning for Corporal Charles Nesbitt, Jr. Nesbitt died after the police cruiser he was driving struck an SUV head-on Friday afternoon on Highway 521 near Rembert.
Law enforcement officers from all over the state traveled to the Midlands to pay tribute to Sumter's first officer to die in the line of duty.
They filed in, one by one. Some remained silently outside, all under a dark sky. Hundreds said final goodbyes to a man who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
The news was difficult for fellow officer and friend Ricky Richards. "This city has lost a great person," said Richards, an investigator with the Clarendon County Sheriff's Department.
Richards has known Chuck for 20 years, and says the two shared jokes and had similar personalities. "When you talk to someone five or six times a week and they're not there anymore, it's hard," said Richards. "I picked up the phone yesterday without thinking. I was going to call him and tell him about something."
A similar void will also be felt on the force. "For us, Chuck was a very important part of our family," said Sumter Police Chief Patty Patterson. "To have him taken away is difficult to must for all of us."
Brothers and sisters in blue from all over the state paid their final respects. "When something like this happens, words are tough to express," said Patterson. "Tough to share."
Patterson said the myriad of different uniforms and police vehicles seen at Corporal Nesbitt's funeral shows the kinship that law enforcement officers have. "I think the thin blue line is very unique because it's a unique profession." said Patterson. "It's a calling. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year we're together. We spend more time with each other than we do with our respective families."
Patterson said her 185 employee department has had a tough five days since Corporal Nesbitt's death. "To have him taken away in a blink of an eye is difficult to muster for us," said Patterson. "Chuck was a very, very important part of our family."
Nesbitt was remembered during an hour-long funeral service at Alice Drive Baptist Church. Burial followed at Evergreen Memorial Park.
Nesbitt and another officer, Master Patrolman James Cox, were on their way back to Sumter Friday afternoon after after transporting a prisoner to DJJ when the collision happened.
Nesbitt and Cox were taken to the hospital. Nesbitt died from trauma from the accident. Officer Cox was treated and released.
The driver of the SUV, 43-year-old Michael Grundner from Cassat, was also taken to the hospital. His injuries are still unknown.
Patterson Wednesday said that prisoner transports to DJJ and other agencies are a regular responsibility for her officers and that Nesbitt had done "many transports in the past."
The circumstances behind exactly what caused the accident are still unclear. Troopers have not released any more information or if any charges will be filed.
Patterson said Nesbitt will be missed for his "commitment, his character, his integrity and his call to serve."
The family is requesting that in lieu of flowers, memorials be directed to the John K. Crosswell Home for Children, 11 Crosswell Drive, Sumter, SC 29150.