LAKE BUTLER, Fla. (AP) - Union County Sheriff Jerry Whitehead died Wednesday of an apparent heart attack following a brief illness. He was 60.
Whitehead complained of a flu-like illness and was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday, Chief Deputy Garry Seay told the Gainesville Sun (http://bit.ly/18AyY9V ). He died around 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
"He didn't think it was anything serious. He was just weak," Seay said. "He went to the doctor, and they put him in the hospital."
Whitehead had been sheriff of Union County since 1985 and the Sun reports he was the longest-serving sheriff in Flroida.
"It's a sad day for us," Seay told the Sun. "He was a great person and a great sheriff. He was a people person. He tried to help anybody and everybody. He was like a brother to me."
Whitehead was born and raised in in Union County, and followed his father - John H. Whitehead - into law enforcement. His father was also served as sheriff of Union County.
Seay will assume the role of sheriff until Gov. Rick Scott appoints a replacement to serve until the next election.
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell called Whitehead "Good Time Jerry." She said she often called him for guidance.
"Sheriff Whitehead has always been engaging and fun," she said. "Whenever I needed advice from another sheriff I would call him, and he was decisive. That came from his solid base of knowledge having been in the sheriff arena for generations."
Bill Cervone, state attorney for Florida's Eighth Judicial Circuit, recalls trying some Union County cases when the elder Whitehead was sheriff. Even then, he said, Jerry Whitehead had an interest in everything going on.
"He had a heart of gold. He understood people and how to try to help people. He understood when he needed to be tough and when he needed to overlook," Cervone said. "I think you would find, absent the ones who really did bad things and were sent to prison, that most of the people who ran afoul of the law would say the same thing - he treated them fair, he treated them right.
Cervone said Whitehead "understood what law enforcement was all about in trying to help and protect people."
Whitehead was married and had six children.
Information from: The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, http://www.gainesvillesun.com
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