Fallen Central Texas deputy ‘loved helping others’

Along the route, those passing by stopped what they were doing to pay respects to the fallen...
Along the route, those passing by stopped what they were doing to pay respects to the fallen deputy, while area fire and police departments hung American flags on overpasses along the route. (Photo by Megan Vanselow)(KWTX)
Published: Apr. 26, 2020 at 7:26 AM CDT
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Family, friends, colleagues and area residents bid farewell Friday to Bell County sheriff’s Deputy John Rhoden, 31, who was killed in the line of duty early Sunday morning.

An 18-wheeler struck and killed Rhoden at around 1:45 a.m. Sunday on Interstate 35 in Temple while he was attempting to place spike strips on the highway to assist Williamson County deputies, who were pursuing a stolen vehicle.

Attendance was limited Friday because of social distancing requirements, but Rhoden’s family, closet friends and colleagues were seated in groups throughout the pews at Dossman Funeral Home in Belton.

During the service, Rhoden was remembered as a friend to all.

"John loved many things including family, friends, fishing, art, music, and baseball, but most of all he loved helping others. He lived the motto to protect and serve."

Following the service, his body was escorted to a Lampasas cemetery where he was laid to rest with full police honors.

Along the route, those passing by stopped what they were doing to pay respects, while area fire and police departments hung American flags on overpasses along the route.

The U.S. Honor Flag, which has traveled millions of miles to honor fallen first responders and military personnel, was placed Wednesday beside Rhoden’s casket, as colleagues maintained a round-the-clock vigil.

Gov. Greg Abbott Tuesday ordered U.S. and Texas flags lowered to half-staff in Bell County in Rhoden's honor.

Rhoden was born in Norwood, Mass. and started his career with the Bell County Sheriff’s Department in June of 2010.

He was promoted to field deputy in August of 2014 and was assigned to the midnight shift patrol division at the time of his death.

His father, Michael, worked as a correctional officer for the Bell County Sheriff’s Department from March of 1996 until March of 1998 and the joined the Belton Police Department where he rose to the rank of deputy chief before retiring after two decades of service.

“The Rhoden family models a life of service and putting others first,” Belton police Chief Gene Ellis said in a statement Tuesday.

“John Rhoden grew up around BPD and then after college followed in his dad’s footsteps when he joined the Bell County Sheriff’s Department,” he said.

“John was friendly, a man of integrity, and as committed as his dad was to public service. Our hearts break for the Rhoden family and the Bell County Sheriff’s Department.”

“The Rhoden family is our family,” he said.

The 100 Club of Central Texas on Sunday activated its Survivor Fund for Rhoden to raise funds for the deputy's family.

The department’s grief was compounded by the death of sheriff’s

Sgt. Robert L. Pettigrew, 59.

He died Monday morning of a heart attack at his home in Lampasas County.

Pettigrew was preparing to return to work after undergoing surgery.

After learning of Rhoden’s death Sunday, he offered to return early if needed.

Pettigrew marked his 27th anniversary with the department in March.

He worked as a correctional officer a deputy, served as the departments DARE officer and later was promoted to operations sergeant.

Visitation is from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Church of Christ at 306 West Avenue E in Copperas Cove.

The funeral service is at 10 a.m. next Tuesday at the church.

Seating will be limited to family members, close friends and colleagues.

The service will be streamed.

Burial follows at Copperas Cove Cemetery at 415 East Avenue A in Copperas Cove.

The Bell County Sheriff’s Department has parked Deputy John Rhoden’s patrol unit on the sidewalk beneath the U.S. and Texas flags in front of the department at 104 South Main Street in Belton as a memorial for Rhoden and Sgt. Robert Pettigrew, who died of natural causes Monday morning.

The department also has a Memorial Foundation set up to help first responders in time of need.  Donations may be made in the lobby of the department or mailed to: Bell County Sheriff’s Department Memorial Foundation, PO Box 1563 Belton, TX 76513