Fallen deputy's body escorted to Tampa organ bank

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The body of a fallen Highlands County deputy was brought to Tampa early Wednesday morning.

Deputy William Gentry was fatally wounded after being shot on Sunday night, officials say.

He is an organ donor, and the next phase in the process continued at 2 a.m. as troopers from Florida Highway Patrol and law enforcement officers from several agencies escorted his body from Lee Memorial Hospital, where he passed away on Monday, to LifeLink in Tampa. 

LifeLink is an organ donation and tissue bank in Hillsborough County.

LifeLink is saving his tissue, including skin, ligaments, and cornea. The deputy’s other organs were harvested by doctors at Lee Memorial Hospital in Ft. Myers.

“He was able to save multiple lives thru the generosity of organ donation," said LifeLink spokesperson Besty Edwards. "He will improve upwards of 70 individuals thru the gifts of tissue donation including the gift of sight to two individuals thru donation of his cornea."

Deputy Gentry’s body was carried out of the hospital by fellow deputies, and placed in a Highlands County EMS ambulance Wednesday. 

Interstate 75 was lined with tributes, according to the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, which shared videos and photos on its Facebook page. Every overpass, they said, was “red and blue in salute.” Even construction workers joined in. 

In the video, the same red and blue colors from the tops of patrol cars lit up the highway as they traveled northbound. At least two overpasses had a U.S. flag raised in Deputy Gentry’s honor.  

Lt. Gregory Bueno with FHP tweeted overnight, “Florida Highway Patrol Troopers along with multiple law enforcement (and) emergency responder agencies were honored to escort fallen Highlands County Deputy William Gentry & family from Lee Memorial Hospital…Praying for his family and loved ones. RIP.”

Many say history will remember Deputy Gentry as a hero in life and in death. 

“This really presents an opportunity to bring attention to the fact that, while lives have been saved as early as today thanks to Deputy Gentry, we still have more than 115,000 on the national organ transplant waiting list. Of those, 5,300 patients are here, listed at Florida transplant centers alone,” Edwards explained.

A public candlelight vigil will be held for Deputy Gentry on Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. at Fireman's Field, located at 681 Magnolia Avenue in Sebring. On Tuesday, a public memorial will be held at 11 a.m. at the Highlands New Sun Center, located at 781 Magnolia Avenue. The time and date is subject to change pending the organ donation process.

Deputy Gentry will return to Highlands County Thursday, May 10. The procession will leave the Medical Examiner’s Office in Winter Haven at 9 a.m. and is scheduled to be at the county line at 10 a.m., proceeding down US 27 to Stephenson-Nelson Funeral Home on the Sebring Parkway.