A Hero of a Man

End of Watch: Donald Cook, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, Florida

End of Watch Saturday, December 3, 1988

They don’t come along often – heroes. Usually, they exist, right alongside, shoulder-to-shoulder with others. But they stand out when it comes time.

That described Don Cook. Don was a deputy with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. He was born in Alabama but moved to Pensacola when he was seven years old. From that moment, Pensacola was home. He grew up here, went to school here, married, started a family, and joined the sheriff’s office.

The job of a deputy is pretty all-encompassing. As a result, some lawmen kinda marry their job, or at least put a priority on it. Not Don. Family was first. Don’t get me wrong, he took his job seriously and believed that serving the people of Escambia County was one of the most important things he could do. Like the time in 1986 that the guy fled from a deputy. After the deputy caught up to him, he rammed the car and drove off. Don was right there to greet him and give him a new address, despite the danger.

But first and foremost, Don Cook was family man. His wife, Chris and he had four children. That was his pride – his family.

Don’t get me wrong, Don had a host of friends at the sheriff’s office. One of his co-workers was Joe Curry. Joe and Don were friends, but Joe remembered him as a great family man.  

December 3, 1988:

Simpsonville is located in the northwestern part of South Carolina, about 15 miles southeast of Greenville. It was incorporated in 1801 when it was no more than an intersection of an old stage road and the Cherokee Trail. It has since grown into a charming small town where many people would like to live.

Johnny and James Parker grew up there. But the charm of the small town was not enough for them. They wanted more…but they didn’t necessarily want to work for it. They would rather steal it.

In late 1988, they found themselves in northwest Florida. Maybe they figured they could rob someone, get the money, and flee town before they were caught. Wrong.

On the afternoon of December 3, 1988 – 34 years ago today, they were stopped at the rest area on Interstate 10 on the east side of Escambia Bay, waiting for a victim. The two cowards found him in 79-year-old Ralph Stewart from Monroe, LA who was working on his car. They robbed Mr. Stewart, then fled. Mr. Stewart made his way to the Nugget Store at the Avalon Blvd. exit to call the police. But to his surprise, the two thugs were there! As they left, a young man, Gordon Jones, followed them and called to police to report their location and tag number. Deputies from the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office located them back on Interstate 10 and the westbound chase was on.

At 7:30 pm, the Santa Rosa dispatcher called an asked for help from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. Don Cook responded. He wasn’t even working that night, but headed to an off-duty job for some extra money. Interstate 10 on the east side of Highway 29 made for a good spot to set up a road block. Don pulled his cruiser in one of the lanes, got out and stood in the median, out of the way.

A few seconds later, the chase came their way. The bad guys, seeing the roadblock, swerved to the side of the road. A pursuing deputy swerved into the median in order to miss the cruiser but struck and killed Don instead. The suspects got off the Interstate and headed north on Highway 29. At Detroit Blvd, they ran into a ditch. Johnny decided that he was done and gave up. James, however, got out of the car and tried to get away. But Santa Rosa Sergeant Joel Lowery, who had been in the chase from the beginning, shot James, hitting him in the back and permanently paralyzing him.

“He gave the highest sacrifice a man could make,” said Rev. Jerry Cox at Don’s funeral. Jerry knew what he was talking about. He was a former Escambia Deputy. 1500 people filed into Olive Baptist Church on December 7, 1988. Officers from as far away as Mississippi and Miami were there. The procession to Bayview Cemetery stretched 5.7 miles. It was a scene to behold but shouldn’t have ever been. It’s a helpless feeling.

Don Cook left behind his wife, Chris, his four children, Linda, Kimberly, Shon, Donnie and his first granddaughter, Heather. His son-in-law, Jeremy Small, is a colonel with the Escambia Sheriff’s Office.

On April 5, 2022, an article was published in the Pensacola News Journal by Collin Warren-Hicks on the ceremony dedicating a portion of I-10 named in memory of Deputy Cook. The ceremony, held at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, was attended by Sheriff Chip Simmons, State Senator Doug Broxson, State Representative Michelle Salzman, family and friends.

Don Cook surely left this life a hero.

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