Deputy killed in Irma-related crash honored during emotional funeral service

Deputy Danny O’Bryan of the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office speaks during a funeral service for Deputy Sheriff Julie Bridges on Saturday morning at Bayside Community Church in Bradenton.
Deputy Danny O’Bryan of the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office speaks during a funeral service for Deputy Sheriff Julie Bridges on Saturday morning at Bayside Community Church in Bradenton. zwittman@bradenton.com

Hardee County Sheriff Arnold Lanier knelt as he handed a folded flag to a young boy sitting in the front row.

The flag had been draped over the coffin of Hardee County Sheriff’s Deputy Julie Ann England Bridges, 42. Her son, Caiden, 8, was the recipient of the folded flag after her funeral Saturday morning. Just moments before, Caiden was seen clutching the hand of a family member.

The funeral for Bridges, of Zolfo Springs, was held Saturday at Bayside Community Church, 15800 State Road 64, Bradenton. Dozens of law enforcement officers from many departments gathered for the service and sat alongside Bridges’ friends and family.

Bridges died Sept. 10 in a head-on collision with a Hardee Correctional Institute Sgt. Joseph Ossman, 53, of Sebring, who was also killed in the crash.

Ossman was on his way to work while Bridges was driving home. It wasn’t immediately clear which vehicle crossed into the oncoming lane and the cause of the crash remains under investigation. Hurricane Irma is considered to be a contributing factor in her death.

Bridges was a deputy in Hardee County for 13 years. Her career in law enforcement started as a dispatcher communications officer with the Venice Police Department, according to her obituary.

“Julie was an incredibly hard worker. She loved her job as a deputy sheriff but most of all she loved her son,” Lanier said.

A slide show of photos displayed during the service were almost exclusively of Bridges and her son, many that included her in uniform. They were pictured with Santa Claus and Disney characters, and at Busch Gardens and Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Lanier recalled a previous conversation with Bridges’ son, when Caiden said he wanted to be a deputy sheriff when he grew up.

Reading a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed to Bridges’ son, Stephen Muldrow, acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, said, “Your mother was a remarkable woman. ... I realize no words of mine can take away that pain, but take some comfort in that your mother was a hero.”

“Her legacy of selflessness is something you will carry on in all that you do,” Muldrow read.

Sgt. Danny O’Bryan of the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office said Bridges was a hard worker who always kept him on his toes. Taking long pauses between thoughts, O’Bryan recalled how Bridges was always there for others.

“She always listened to other people’s problems and tried to give advise if she could. If not, she let them vent,” O’Bryan said.

Lisa Lutz described her cousin as compassionate, courteous, smart and witty and said Bridges would have been “overwhelmed” by the presence of so many.

Lutz also asked those who attended the service to share their memories of Bridges with the family. Whether it was over social media, in person or in another way; the memories, she said, were important to her family.

After the service, the family was escorted outside where helicopters flew over the church, doves were released and a riderless horse passed behind Bridges’ casket as family members wiped away their tears. A 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps” ended the ceremony honoring Bridges’ service.

She is survived by her parents, her son and several other family members, according to her obituary.

Bridges’ family requested not to speak with media.

A statement from the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office said: “On behalf of the Hardee County Sheriff’s Department, we honor Deputy Sheriff Julie Bridges today and forever. Deputy Julie sacrificed her life to help protect the citizens of Hardee County while they sought shelter from Hurricane Irma. Julie served our community for 13 years and was one of the most faithful and dedicated deputies, mother and friend you could ever hope to know. We will miss her dearly and will hold her in our hearts forever.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Sara Nealeigh: 941-745-7081, @saranealeigh