A father-and-son team from the Franklin County Sheriff Office became the county’s first-ever to receive the state’s coveted Law Enforcement Officers of the Year honors.
Sgt. Jeff Hewitt and Deputy Jared Hewitt were recognized at a banquet Tuesday evening in Tampa at the summer conference of the Florida Sheriffs Association.
Each received a handsome plaque, a check for $1,000 and a chance to meet with Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The award is presented each year at the conference to commend an officer who has shown bravery, service and honor in the line of duty. This year marks only the third time since 1990 that the award has been given to multiple officers.
“We normally recognize only one Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, but exceptions are made when deputies carry out courageous actions together as a team,” said Florida Sheriffs Association President and Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter. “This year we are proud to applaud both Sgt. Jeff Hewitt and Deputy Jared Hewitt for their heroic actions.”
As fire rapidly spread across Eastpoint on June 24, 2018, Jeff and Jared Hewitt heard their commanding officer Capt. Dwayne Coulter order all deputies to pull back due to zero visibility.
Shortly after that command, the deputies received a call that a family of three was trapped inside a burning truck on Buck Street. Jeff Hewitt was nearby so he drove further down the road, hoping to see the truck before reaching the fire.
“I could only see a couple yards in front of my truck when I was locating the family and could feel the heat of the fire from inside my truck,” he said. “The furthest I could drive was the curve in the road, and luckily, the family was right there.”
Both deputies arrived at the flaming truck at the same time from opposite directions.
“Once I heard the call that there was a family trapped in a burning vehicle, my instincts kicked in and my only concern was saving them,” said Jared Hewitt. “I was pleased to see that my dad had the same thought when we arrived at the scene at the same time.”
The vehicle was in the ditch and the front was already engulfed in flames. Jeff Hewitt beat on the side of the vehicle while his son jumped in the bed of the truck to bang on the cab window. The roaring flames drowned out their voices, but the female victim finally cracked open the door once she heard the officers.
The male victim was unable to get his 4-year-old son out of his car seat, so Jeff Hewitt worked quickly to rescue the child from the back seat and bring him to safety. Jeff Hewitt escorted the male and female passengers out, and the entire family safely fled the scene with the deputies.
“Sgt. Jeff Hewitt and Deputy Jared Hewitt easily could have remained on safe ground and not entered a life-threatening situation,” said Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith. “I am proud to work alongside, not one, but two men who are deeply committed to protecting the people of Franklin County.”
There were no casualties during the Eastpoint fire, due to the bravery and selflessness of these deputies and their fellow officers.
“The FSA values integrity, honor, courage and commitment,” said Steve Casey, executive director of the Florida Sheriffs Association. “We are extremely fortunate to have many brave men and women serving throughout Florida, such as Sgt. Jeff Hewitt and Deputy Jared Hewitt who live out these values in the field every day.”
The Law Enforcement Officer of the Year is sponsored by Star & Shield Insurance Services.
“Law enforcement officers often have to enter stressful and often dangerous situations and use their training to save lives,” said Allen Durham, president and CEO of Star & Shield. “We are grateful for Sgt. Jeff Hewitt and Deputy Jared Hewitt’s bravery and selflessness in serving the citizens of Franklin County.”
The Florida Sheriffs Association, founded in 1893, is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation made up of the 67 sheriffs of Florida, approximately 2,500 business leaders and 83,000 citizens throughout the state. In addition to addressing lawmakers regarding Florida’s public safety arena, and providing sheriffs with much-needed programs such as affordable training, special task forces and legislative and legal services, the FSA has established and funded the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches with facilities throughout the state. For more information, visit www.flsheriffs.org