Standing at attention at the passing of a procession honoring her dead father, Paul Besaw’s 5-year-old daughter Allison raised her right hand and sharply saluted Thursday afternoon at the entrance to Christ Fellowhip.
“(Allison) has a strong sense of pride. Her dad was a paramedic, so she had lots of exposure to law enforcement. And she loved her dad so much,” said Brett Witherspoon, whose sister Dawn was married to Besaw for 10 years before he and fellow medical technician Lahiri Garcia, 51, were killed in a vehicle crash June 1 on Indiantown Road west of Military Trail at Philadephia Drive in Jupiter.
The dramatic moment — conjuring up memories of 3-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting the casket of his slain father — took place on Northlake Boulevard as about 600 people filled the hall to celebrate the lives of the two medical technicians who differed in personality but were united in their commitment to help others.
“They were totally unalike,” said Thomas McEntee, regional chief executive officer for American Medical Response. “Lahiri (Garcia) had this thick Dominican accent. He was gregarious and outgoing. Paul (Besaw) was quiet, introspective. They were different, but they had a compatible partnership.”
Garcia, a 23-year employee who lived in Port St. Lucie, was a critical care supervisor. Besaw, a 17-year employee who lived in Weston, was a critical care paramedic and supervisor, according to AMR. Besaw was 36 years old.
Jupiter police have not released the name of the driver of the other vehicle involved in the crash, saying the case remains under investigation.
Family members clutching hands, state medical personnel and local fire-rescue workers wearing pressed black informs and spit-shined shoes filled the hall on the south side of Northlake Boulevard for the Celebration of Life ceremony.
Led by Palm Beach County Sheriff Office motorcycle officers, the procession of about 65 ambulances and rescue vehicles from Lee, Sumter, Hillsborough and many other Florida counties left AMR headquarters off Central Boulevard in Jupiter for Christ Fellowship about 9 a.m.
Black tape stretched over their badges, many of the 200 medical technicians had fond memories of Garcia and Besaw.
“No matter how tough a day was, he always had a smile. You don’t forget people like that,” said Mike Musaccio, a paramedic from Lee County.
Garcia and Besaw were stationed at the 129-resident Courtyard Gardens assisted living facility. They often voluntarily helped the residents, said Mary Murphy, executive director at the center.
“They were always upbeat and positive. They would always stop and talk to the residents. It wasn’t part of their job. They did it anyway,” said Murphy.
Bagpipes played as family members entered the Christ Fellowship hall. Big photos of smiling Garcia and Besaw with their families were on display. Bouquets of red, white and orange roses were on the stage.
The U.S. Honor Flag was folded and on an easel. Starting in 2007, the flag has traveled over 7 million miles to honor Americans in the military, police, fire departments and medical services killed while on duty. The flag’s last stop was for a South Carolina sheriff’s deputy, said Cynthia Cohn, the chief of staff of the non-profit organization.
“The flag is displayed for American heroes,” said Cohn.
Besaw’s wife Dawn sat in the front with daughter Allison. Garcia’s wife Julie sat nearby with three of their four children.
Speakers took turns talking about the long hours paramedics spend away from their families. Medical workers develop a deep camaraderie as they face daily emergencies. Losing a fellow paramedic is losing a piece of the family fabric, McEntee told the audience.
“Now, there is a tear in that fabric. It will mend. But we will always be able to point to where the tear was,” he said.
Garcia and Besaw had just dropped off a patient at Jupiter Medical Center before the June 1 collision on Indiantown Road. Officials at JMC have made a plaque and plan to name the Emergency Medical Services lounge after the two men.
“These men were dedicated paramedics. We plan on holding a ceremony and inviting the families,” said Fred Mollica, JMC director of community services.