Green Cove Springs, FL – Clay County Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Zirbel died in the line of duty late Tuesday night, nearly three days after a vehicle pulling a tractor trailer crashed into him as he was riding his motorcycle on patrol, Sheriff Darryl Daniels announced on Wednesday.
“It’s very unfortunate that I have a guy who’s traveling down the street, enforcing traffic laws, and fell victim to the very violation of those laws that he was sworn to enforce,” Sheriff Daniels said during a press conference.
“It hurts to know that your brother, your coworker, is gone… it’s a brotherhood. It’s a family in law enforcement,”the sheriff added.
The crash occurred just before 11 a.m. on Sunday, while 40-year-old Deputy Zirbel was traveling southbound in the center lane of Blanding Boulevard, WJXX reported.
The unnamed driver of a Dodge pickup pulling a lawn trailer failed to yield to the deputy, and pulled into traffic to make a left-hand turn.
The driver slammed into Deputy Zirbel, and ejected him off of his motorcycle and onto the street.
“I don’t know what the other driver was doing, and I’m not one to blame fault on anybody, but when I got a guy, a son of Clay County, who’s driving down the street in a straight line, and somebody fails to yield, or was distracted, or whatever he was doing that precluded him from seeing a vehicle that was traveling in his path, then, you know, I take that personally,” Sheriff Daniels said during the press conference.
Deputy Zirbel, a 12-year veteran of the force, was rushed to the Orange Park Medical Center in critical condition, where he later succumbed to his injuries, WJXX reported.
“If people wonder why we take the stance that we take on violations of the law, people wonder why we’re out here enforcing traffic laws, it’s because things happen,” Sheriff Daniels told reporters. “It’s because when you violate those laws, people can lose their lives. And unfortunately, in this instance, it was a member of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.”
Deputy Zirbel loved being a motorcycle officer, and was a “good man,” the sheriff said.
“We know that life is so short… it’s but a vapor… it’s so fleeting,” he said.
Sheriff Daniels vowed that Deputy Zirbel’s tragic death would also lead to meaningful change.
“His memory will not be forgotten, and him falling in the line of duty will not be in vain,” the sheriff said. “Because if it’s the last thing I do, I will ensure that the Clay County Sheriff’s Office is represented at the table with the legislators to ensure that distracted driving and texting while driving is made a primary offense in this state.”
Deputy Zirbel leaves behind his wife, Anna, and their 8-year-old son, both of whom “will always be members of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office,” Sheriff Daniels said.
During the press conference, Anna spoke of her husband’s passion for helping others.
“Even now, in this moment of our most painful grief, I am happy to say that Ben is still helping people,” she said. “Ben was a registered organ donor, and it gives me some comfort to say that, with his death, he may be helping to save the lives of at least seven other individuals. He may also possibly be helping up to 100 more people with the gift of tissue.”
“We never know what’s coming next in life, so don’t take a single day for granted,” the grieving widow continued. “We will always miss him, but we know that his kindness and his big heart will live within all of us.”
A fundraising account established to assist Deputy Zirbel’s family in the wake of their loss had raised more than $16,000 as of Thursday afternoon.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Clay County Sheriff’s Deputy Zirbel, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Deputy Ben Zirbel, your life mattered.