A slow-moving motorcade, led by hundreds of Florida Highway Patrol troopers on motorcycles, eased up to the Miami Beach Convention Center Sunday morning to pay final respects to Trooper Patrick Ambroise of Miramar. Ambroise, 35, died May 15 in a fiery car crash on the Florida Turnpike that has raised questions about the safety of his police cruiser.
On Sunday, as drums played a solemn beat, a black Cadillac carrying the body of Trooper Ambroise passed under a large American flag suspended from a Miami Beach fire-rescue truck and stopped outside the sprawling convention center.
Roberta Ambroise, his widow, stood at the entrance, heaved a heavy sigh, and rocked herself back and forth. She held her 5-year-old daughter's hand and carried her 3-month-old daughter in her arm. She did not cry.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist took the widow's hand as they walked in to the convention center, which was packed with family, friends, fellow church members, and a solemn crowd of about 1,000 police officers from all over South Florida.
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Many attendees at the funeral were from the Eden Seventh Day Adventist congregation, where Ambroise attended worship services, the same Little Haiti church where he grew up singing Creole gospel songs.
The memorial began with Hymn 527,‘The Lord is my Shepherd,' sung in French. The voices of his church filled the auditorium while his photos were projected on giant screens. Then, one by one, those who were part of Ambroise's life took the stage.
FHP Trooper Shenaqua Stinger read aloud a poem, then told the crowd, "know that Patrick is loved, and we will miss him."
His brother in law, Bermann Flerena, spoke of Ambroise's imprint on everyone's heart.
"Though Patrick is gone, it is only for a short while," Flerena said. "We will see him again."
Ambroise, who joined the FHP force in January 2006, is to be buried at Dade Memorial Park Cemetery, 1301 Opa-locka Blvd. later Sunday afternoon.
Ambroise, a graduate of Edison High School, was sitting in his parked cruiser at around 8:30 p.m. -- just an hour and a half from the end of his shift -- when a black Lexus veered from the northbound lane onto the shoulder, slamming full speed into the rear of Ambroise's 2006 Crown Victoria. The car burst into flames, trapping the trooper inside. The driver of the Lexus that hit him was identified as Jonathan Robert Garcia, 19, of Miramar. Garcia was flown to Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center with serious injuries.
Garcia, a college student, appears to have a clean driving record in Florida. Authorities said tests for drugs and alcohol came back negative for the driver. FHP said no charges have been filed.
The model of Ambroise's vehicle, the Crown Victoria, often used in police work, has come under heavy scrutiny in the past for being involved in crashes with fatal fires.
In 1997, another FHP trooper died in a similar fashion. Robert Smith, 34, was killed on Interstate 95 when a man police say was drunk plowed into the back of his parked cruiser, causing it to explode on impact. Smith, too, was strapped inside.
Critics of the car say the location of the gas tank, behind the rear axle, makes it more prone to catch fire in a rear-end crash. In 2005, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer sent a letter to Ford, asking the company to conduct a "major design overhaul'' of the Crown Victoria after a cab driver was killed in a fiery rear-end crash.
Ford made a set of gas-tank shields available for police cruisers in 2003, but it's not clear whether Ambroise's Crown Victo-ria had been retrofitted to address the fuel tank issue.
Ambroise's death is the first of a Florida trooper since January 2007, when FHP Sgt. Nicholas Sottile was fatally shot by a suspect after a traffic stop in Highland