Originally written and reported by Alex Tiegen Aug. 28, 2011
Hernando County Sheriff’s Deputy John Mecklenburg died in July after a high-speed pursuit of a felon. He lost control of his patrol cruiser and crashed into a tree along U.S. 41 in Pasco County.
This weekend, a motorcycle procession is taking to the road in memory of the man who lost his life while doing his duty.
The charity ride, which includes bikers and law enforcement, benefits Mecklenburg’s family and kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday at Ker's Bar and Grill on U.S. 19 in New Port Richey. It was organized by the Bubba the Love Sponge Foundation, started by Florida radio personality Bubba “The Love Sponge” Clem.
The route travels through the city and the Moon Lake area, onto U.S. 41 and onto County Line Road in Hernando before looping back to the WingHouse.
Mecklenburg, 35, was a husband, a father of two and an Army veteran. The crash that claimed his life occurred during a pursuit that spanned multiple counties July 3.
Michael James Anthony, who had fled the law on other occasions, was seen driving recklessly by Brooksville police officers around 4:40 a.m. The officers failed to spin him out, and a deputy lost control of his cruiser and hit a pickup and a power pole at U.S. 41 and Ayers Road.
Mecklenburg continued pursuing Anthony south on U.S. 41. His cruiser veered off the road, hit a tree and caught fire. Mecklenburg was taken to a hospital, where he died hours later.
Anthony was arrested in Pinellas County. He's in Hernando County Jail and faces multiple charges resulting from the chase, including attempted felony homicide and second-degree felony homicide.
Mecklenburg left behind family in the area. There are wife Penny and son Andrew, 5, and daughter Jessica, 18 months old at the time of her father’s death. There are Charles and Judi Mecklenburg, the deputy’s mother and father. There are the deputy’s brother and sister Abel and Stacy Mecklenburg.
But there’s also extended family, and they have been feeling delayed grief, said Stacy Mecklenburg, who lives in Spring Hill.
“It's hard on every single soul that knew him, because he was a shining star,” she wrote in a message to Patch. “He touched this community because of his sincerity, and his family and friends are sincerely grieving.”
“I cannot speak for any other member of my family or our friends, but I immensely appreciate all the support that has been shown since this tragedy," she continued. "It is overwhelming, and it is spectacular. I can rave about what an awesome man my brother was, but when you come in contact with hundreds upon hundreds of people who agree with you, it is an amazing feeling. We all love John more than anyone could comprehend, and I am grateful that so many people desire to support us in our time of transition. I thank you, and John is smiling down on all of us."
Stacy Mecklenburg wrote this on Facebook:
I've felt all the condolences for me...but I want you all to know that we are in this together.
I am so very sorry that you lost your husband.
I am so very sorry that you lost your childhood buddy.
I am so very sorry that you lost your brother.
I am so very sorry that you lost your son.
I am so very sorry that you lost your co-worker.
I am so very sorry that you lost your best man.
I am so very sorry that you lost your father.
I am so very sorry that you lost your cousin.
I am so very sorry that you lost your nephew.
I am so very sorry that you lost your friend.
I am so very happy that we are all connected. I love you.
Registration for the ride can still be made for $15 at btlsfoundation.org. You can also register the day of the event in person for $20, starting at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday at the WingHouse, 6515 U.S. 19.
Here are the traffic routes for the charity ride, according the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. There could be traffic delays.
1. Leaving the WingHouse at 10 a.m.: US Hwy. 19 (Southbound)
2. Main Street (Eastbound)
3. Rowan Road (Northbound)
4. Massachusetts Ave. (Eastbound)
5. DeCubellis Rd. (Eastbound)
6. Moon Lake Rd. (Northbound)
7. SR 52 (Eastbound)
8. US Hwy. 41 (Northbound)
9. County Line Rd. - Hernando (Westbound)
10. Returning to the WingHouse: US Hwy. 19 (Southbound)