Editorial: Remembering Ron Parker

Michael Gold, Editor in Chief

Every year in January, Brenda Parker returns to the community where she and her husband Ron were living in 1975.  The young couple moved to St Augustine from their home in New Jersey where Ron served as one of the youngest members of his police department.  He was 27 years old.

Parker accepted the second-in-command position with the fledgling Town of St Augustine Beach and became the deputy of Beach Marshal Edward C Booth, Sr.  It was a two-man department at that time.

Today, we join Brenda to honor Deputy Marshal Ronald Parker who was killed in the line of duty on January 12, 1975.  I was there at the Sheraton Inn that night.  It was likely one of the most traumatic experiences of my law enforcement years. The weeks that followed clearly separated the men from the boys.  When I got my invitation from Brenda, I knew that this would be one of the few years that I couldn’t attend this ceremony.

DeSherlia killed Parker in the parking lot where Embassy Suites now stands. Unbeknown to Parker, DeSherlia was wanted for two killings in Alabama and a bank robbery in Iowa at the time he arrived in St Augustine Beach.

The two men crossed paths when Parker responded to what he thought was a simple call to help someone whose car was stuck in some rocks by the pier. Instead, DeSherlia, on the run from law enforcement, shot and killed Parker with his own service weapon; a 45-caliber semi-automatic pistol taken from Parker when DeSherlia got in the front passenger side of his patrol car.

DeSherlia led other officers on a high-speed chase before he was stopped in the Davis Shores area. He got into a shootout with St. Johns County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Wayne Tanner and suffered gunshot wounds from which he later recovered.

DeSherlia was sentenced to prison for life on April 29, 1975. But he was eligible for parole and had several hearings over the years.  Brenda Parker was present at all of them.  She remained adamant that she would do everything she could to make sure her husband’s killer remained locked up — and he did.

The Florida Department of Corrections announced to Historic City News that on Sunday morning, October 6, 2013 at about 7:00 a.m., Thomas Edward DeSherlia, the man convicted in the 1975 murder of St Augustine Beach deputy marshal Ronald A. Parker, had died in prison. He had been in custody at Union County Correction Institute since April 1975.  Desherlia was 68 years old.

With the possibility DeSherlia could be paroled – however remote – Parker never could never relax. She became active in COPS (Concerns of Police Survivors), helping others cope with the loss of a loved one.  Parker, who has lived in Georgia since 1980, said she was always relieved after a successful parole hearing, but she had a hard time not thinking about the next one.

Upon hearing of DeSherlia’s death, Brenda said, “It certainly does make life a little easier.  I’ve entered a new chapter. I feel like I’ve been fighting for so long… I feel like I don’t have to get up and plan for the next parole hearing.”

Members from the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, St. Augustine Police Dept, St. Johns County Fire Rescue, St. Augustine Fire Dept, The State Attorney’s Office, Florida Highway Patrol, National Park Service and so many more came to honor Deputy Marshal Ron Parker again this year.  So did Ron’s widow, Brenda.

Chief Derek Barrs from the Florida Highway Patrol was the guest speaker during this year’s commemoration, First Coast Highlands Pipes and Drums offered their rendition of Amazing Grace, and Commander John Donlon (retired) played Taps at the close of the ceremony.