Sandy, UT – Sandy City Police Chief William “Bill” O’Neal died unexpectedly on January 12 after suffering a medical emergency.
The 48-year-old police chief “experienced an unfortunate medical event and subsequently passed away from natural causes” at 4:30 p.m., the Sandy City Police Department (SCPD) said in a press release later the same day.
Chief O’Neal participated in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) and graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor’s degree prior to attending the police academy, according to his obituary.
He began his law enforcement career with the University of Utah Police Department, and later joined the SCPD in August of 1996.
Chief O’Neal held positions in many units during his 25 years of service, but especially enjoyed working in the youth and motors divisions, as well as in the SWAT division, where he served as commander for six years.
Chief O’Neal was one of three SCPD officers credited with the rescue of then-14-year-old Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her family’s Salt Lake City home in the middle of the night, the Deseret News reported.
Nine months after her abduction, Chief O’Neal and his follow officers spotted her walking down State street with her captors, Wanda Barzee and Brian David Mitchell.
She had been missing for nine months.
“Being able to rescue her was a monumental thing in our careers,” Chief O’Neal told KSL in 2013. “When she was talking, I could see her teeth and from the fliers and the smile, I recognized her teeth. I know that sounds strange and that’s when it hit me. Wow, this is Elizabeth Smart.”
Smart, who is now a best-selling author, speaker, activist, television host, and married mother-of-three, released a statement regarding the chief’s sudden passing.
“I am profoundly grateful for the courage and bravery of the law enforcement officers, especially Chief Bill O’Neal, who responded to the call and helped rescue me almost 17 years ago,” she said, according to KSL. “Chief O’Neal was a leader who provided tremendous service to our community for nearly 25 years. I express my deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.”
Sandy City Police Sergeant Jason Nielsen said that Chief O’Neal was a beloved member of both the department and the community.
“The first moment I met him he was always just friendly, outgoing, very loud and vociferous. Just a great character,” Sgt. Nielsen told the Deseret News. “He was kind of larger-than-life, actually. An icon of the city, I would say. Especially with the police department.”
“It’s crazy how much of an impact and an influence he had on each individual officer and citizen that he encountered,” he added.
The department is reeling in the wake of their sudden loss.
“If I were to go into the fires of hell, I would follow him because I know he would bring me back,” Sgt. Nielsen said of the fallen police chief, according to KSL. “You don’t see cops cry a lot, but there were a lot of tears today.”
Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn said that Chief O’Neal made an invaluable difference in the community he spent over two decades serving.
“From working as a lifeguard at Alta Canyon Recreation Center in high school to serving and leading almost every department at Sandy police, his impact on the community cannot be measured,” Brown said, according to the Deseret News. “Bill O’Neal embodied what it means to protect and serve. Sandy residents have enjoyed a safe community over the years due in large part to his efforts and his influence.”
Chief O’Neal received many commendations and awards throughout his career, to include the Sandy Police Medal of Valor, according to his obituary.
In July of 2018, he became the youngest chief to ever serve the SCPD.
Chief O’Neal leaves behind his wife, Lori, as well as his children, William, Brian, and Halle, and his stepchildren, Kaley and Erik.
He is also survived by his parents, grandmother, sister, many friends and extended family members, and his beloved dogs, Moose and Maggie, according to his obituary.
Chief O’Neal was laid to rest on Saturday.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Sandy City Police Chief William “Bill” O’Neal, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.