‘We lost a hero.’ Fire chief recalls retired firefighter killed helping crash victim

Sarasota County Sheriff's Office

A retired firefighter and search and rescue volunteer lost his life helping another person.

“We lost a hero,” Sarasota County Fire Department Chief Michael Regnier said in a news conference streamed to Facebook on Monday.

Wesley Weysham, 59, of North Port, was driving south on Interstate 75 near mile marker 254 in Hillsborough County around 4:39 a.m. Sunday when he saw a crash and pulled over to help, according to Florida Highway Patrol.

Just before his arrival, a 2018 Toyota Tacoma driven by a 32-year-old Ruskin man troopers believe was impaired, was driving south on I-75 and stopped in the inside lane for unknown reasons, according to FHP.

A 31-year-old Ruskin woman driving a 2003 Buick LaSabre was not able to see the truck stop or stop in time and hit the Tacoma. Both vehicles were stopped in the inside lane.

That’s when Weysham stopped and pulled the driver of the Tacoma out of the truck and to the inside shoulder of the road to provide medical care.

But a third vehicle, a 2010 Toyota Camry, driven by a 23-year-old Ruskin man, was also heading south on I-75 and did not see the vehicles involved in the crash stopped in the road, and crashed into the truck. The truck rotated and struck Weysham, killing him, according to FHP.

The impact also caused the truck to catch fire and it burned completely, troopers said.

Weysham dedicated his life to saving and serving others. Before his time as a firefighter, he served in the Navy and then the Navy Reserve.

“This wasn’t just a job for Wes. It was the way he lived. It was what he believed in,” said Regnier.

Regnier said he believes it was “pure instinct” for Weysham to stop and he would have done so for anyone.

Weysham served with the fire department for 10 years as a firefighter paramedic, according to Sarasota County Emergency Services.

“It was an honor to serve with Wes Weysham, a firefighter and paramedic for Sarasota County Fire Department, Regnier said. “It was an honor to have him represent the Sarasota County Fire Department and his actions reflect the best the department has to offer.”

Members of the department, Regnier said, are devastated by the loss.

“He was a true example of a public servant,” a tweet from Sarasota County Emergency Services said.

After learning of his death, Sarasota K9 Search and Rescue posted his photo and a tribute to Weysham on Facebook.

“Wes Weysham died this morning in the truest form of selflessness; he was killed when he stopped to help a motorist on I-75 in Riverview. Wes joined SSAR in 1998 as a volunteer K9 Handler and most recently served as a Land Navigation Instructor. Rest in peace Wes. You will be in our hearts forever,” the post read.

The post had been shared more than 200 times as of 7:30 a.m. Monday.

In a statement from Weysham’s family, read by Regnier, Weysham was recalled as a beloved family member who loved cracking jokes, being silly and was passionate about taking care of others.

Others in the community have chimed in on social media to mourn Weysham’s death.

“Our hearts are heavy today following the loss of Wesley Weysham, a retired Sarasota County firefighter and Sarasota K9 Search & Rescue handler and instructor,” the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office tweeted Sunday night.

“This gentleman gave his life for the public, being a firefighter. In his heart he was trying to do the right thing, he came out, and it’s just unfortunate,” Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Ronald Drake told FOX 13.

Weysham’s family asked that donations be sent to Sarasota K9 Search and Rescue, PO Box 51446 Sarasota 34232 in lieu of flowers. Details on Weysham’s celebration of life are expected to be released Tuesday.

The drivers of the Camry and the Tacoma suffered minor injuries and were taken to the hospital. The driver of the Buick suffered serious injuries and was taken to Tampa General Hospital.

Sara Nealeigh covers what’s happening in the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto, Florida for the Bradenton Herald. She previously covered breaking news for the Herald after moving to Florida from Ohio in 2016.