By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
The hot sun beat down upon hundreds of people paying their final tribute to former Chief Deputy Eddy Sizemore on Tuesday afternoon.
But the high temperatures didn’t phase those first responders, friends and family who gathered to remember the lifetime of service that defined the pilot of Air Evac 109, based out of Manchester. In a tragic crash, all three crew members of Air Evac 109, which included Sizemore, flight nurse Jesse Jones of Pineville and flight paramedic Herman Lee Dobbs of London, lost their lives last Thursday.
More than 1,000 people participated in the visitation and funeral services for Sizemore, who retired from the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office then rejoined it in 2010 for another two years before leaving to serve as a pilot for Air Evac.
First responders in Laurel and surrounding counties are grieving the loss of their friend and colleague.
At his funeral at First Baptist Church in London, a rotating guard of two — which consisted of personnel from the sheriff’s office, London Fire Department, Ambulance Inc. and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office — stood by Sizemore’s closed casket, adorned by an American flag and flanked by his various uniforms from the military, law enforcement, and air flight pilot. First responders comprised of paramedics, police officers, firefighters, rescue workers, and others from across Laurel and surrounding counties filed by his casket, filling nearly one-third of the massive seating area in the sanctuary. A large video screen reflected photographs of Sizemore’s life, from his years as a pilot in the U.S. Army in Vietnam to his career in law enforcement that included service in both the London Police Department and the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office.
Rick Brewer, vocalist and Laurel County Deputy Judge-Executive, sang “Beulah Land.” Following the song, Souls’ Harbor Pastor Ronnie Ball praised Sizemore’s selfless sacrifices for his community.
“We just enjoyed this good man all of these years. Eddy was a kind and compassionate person.”
During a solo by Earl Smith, who sang, “You Raise Me Up,” many of the first responders — who deal with tragedy and emergency situations everyday — struggled to hold back their grief.
The Rev. Tim Mills, who officiated football games with Sizemore in the KHSAA (Kentucky High School Athletic Association), said Sizemore’s greatest attribute was his love of helping people.
“Eddy was great because he wanted to make a difference. Eddy was a team player. His number one team was you, his family. He loved being a dad. He loved being a grandfather... More specifically and most of all, Eddy gave his all to serve others.”
That quality was echoed by Laurel County Sheriff’s Chaplain, the Rev. Gene Greene, who also addressed the crowd.
“Eddy Sizemore was a guy destined to be in the skies. He loved to be above the trees. And he loved to serve others. He spent his entire life as a servant, in some capacity. I don’t think we’ll ever forget Air Evac 109,” Greene said.
Pastor Dr. Terry Lester of FBC-London said his public service is a legacy that will always be remembered.
“He was of great value to his country by serving in Vietnam,” Lester said, “and he was of great value to his community, serving in law enforcement. The times he’s seen were larger in life. Those deeds he did for so many will never be forgotten.”
A large processional escorted his body to Locust Grove Cemetery in southern Laurel County after the funeral service. The trek along Ky. 363 passed Sizemore’s former residence, which many citizens easily recognized from the days when Sizemore kept the sheriff’s helicopter beside his home. From the large fire trucks from London, Laurel County, Swiss Colony, McWhorter, Crossroads and West Knox volunteer fire departments that lead the procession to the various other emergency responders from all across the state, the tribute to Sizemore spanned nearly a mile of vehicles. Other firefighters, police officers, paramedics and EMTs, rescue personnel, court security, and city and county officials filed to the cemetery to pay their last tribute.
Sizemore, who was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his military service, received full military and law enforcement honors. Immediately in front of the hearse, Capt. Rodney Van Zant drove the black Dodge Charger that was Sizemore’s during his time as chief deputy. Nearing the cemetery, a bagpiper from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office fell into line between Van Zant and the hearse, which was followed by the nine Laurel County Sheriff’s deputies who served as pallbearers.
After the reading of the 23rd Psalm, seven members of the Louisville Metro Police shot three rounds — a 21-gun salute conducted for American military veterans. Sizemore served two tours in Vietnam. A few minutes later, as the crowd stood in complete silence, a helicopter from Air Evac took a memorial flight over the cemetery.
Minutes later, the voice of a dispatcher from Laurel Dispatch called out the “final call for former Chief Deputy Eddy Sizemore,” as first responders slowly lowered their right hands of salute to their sides.
Sizemore’s untimely death was a shock to his former comrades. On Friday, Sgt. E.R. Rudder wore a black band across his badge. He also donned metal pins on each collar of his uniform with “L.C.S.O.”
“When we were sworn in for the first time, when (Sheriff) John (Root) took office, Eddy came up to me and handed me these,” Rudder said. “We don’t have to wear them, but I’m going to.”
Sizemore left the sheriff’s office in February to take the job with Air Evac.
Deputy and Public Affairs Officer Gilbert Acciardo said Sizemore’s death was a loss to the community as well as their office. Acciardo said that days since Sizemore’s death have been difficult.
“We’ve all had to be tough to get through the visitation and funeral,” Acciardo said. “When the funeral’s over, we’ll all grieve. We’re like everybody else — we grieve and we’ll go home and we’ll cry. But we know we have to continue to fly the banner.”
CNHI writer Jeff Noble also contributed to this story.