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Opinion: What Chief O’Neal’s Death Taught Me About Life

SALT LAKE CITY — My phone rang about 7 pm Sunday night. I had just nodded off while watching TV.

When I answered, I certainly didn’t expect to hear that long-time police officer and a friend of our family, Bill O’Neal, had died suddenly that afternoon.

“What?” I shouted, as I shook myself awake.

“How, in the world did this happen!”

“A heart attack?”

To be clear, we aren’t certain if Bill died of cardiac arrest. Those details will be forthcoming I’m sure.

But what I do know is that Bill was the kind of police officer superheroes are made of. An especially strong man, with a gentle “I’ll save the day” demeanor.

Bill will best be remembered as one of three Sandy City police officers who spotted Elizabeth Smart in March 2003 and saved her from two kidnappers who’d abused and held her hostage for nine months.

That day in 2003, Bill was on scene with another friend of mine, retired Sandy City police officer Troy Rasmussen. I called Troy last night because I knew he could help me decipher the devastating news of Bill’s death.

We tried to remember how old Bill was – maybe 49?  Certainly not as old as either one of us.

We talked about how healthy Bill was.

Troy and I both run, but we know no matter how much we exercise, based on appearances alone — Bill certainly exercised more.

Then I thought back to the last time I saw Bill.

He was with his new wife.

We talked in detail about their dreamy wedding ceremony, which just so happened to be held down the street from my parents’ home in Arizona.

Bill was happy.

Bill looked as strong as ever.

Plus, he now had the stripes he’d worked years to earn — and which he richly deserved — chief of police.

I chided him about not taking a phone call of mine after his appointment as chief, and in typical Bill fashion he told me next time to “use the Bat Phone,” AKA his cell phone.

Bill knew how to make people feel like they matter. Because, to him, they did.

How could Troy and I make sense of the senselessness and pinpoint why  Bill was suddenly taken from us, his family, his police department, and the city he served? We couldn’t.

But we did come to this: that Bill’s death should remind us to live life to its fullest every single day, because none of us is guaranteed a tomorrow.

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