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First responder helpline volunteer, retired police officer calls suicides of 2 St. Lucie County deputies 'devastating'

Dana Bennett volunteers for helpline called Copline
Posted at 11:52 PM, Jan 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-06 22:08:27-05

Two St. Lucie County deputies have died after taking their own lives just days apart from each other, according to Sheriff Ken Mascara.

The deputies, Clayton Osteen and Victoria Pacheco, shared a 1-month-old baby whom the community is now rallying to support.

Their sudden deaths are also sparking tough conversations about preventing suicide amongst first responders.

Personnel records show Osteen joined the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office in 2019. He was formerly a U.S Marine.

Pacheco joined in 2020. Both received commendations from the agency.

Pacheco was given a life-saving award in 2021 for her involvement in saving someone who overdosed on drugs.

Osteen was awarded deputy of the year in 2020 and his file shows he also saved someone's life after performing multiple rounds of CPR on a person who overdosed on drugs.

"It's devastating. It really is," retired police Officer Dana Bennett said. "When one of us hurts, we all hurt."

Dana Bennett talks about deputy suicides
Dana Bennett calls the suicides of two St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office deputies "devastating."

Bennett is among the many friends, family and law enforcement officers who wonder if the hardships of the job played a part in their decision to end their life.

"People don't understand what we take home with us," Bennett said.

He retired from his agency in New Jersey in the mid-1990s. Now, he volunteers for a helpline just for first responders and their families called Copline.

"We're not counselors," Bennett said. "We're active listeners."

For hours at a time, he keeps his cell phone close, waiting for any call that comes into the helpline from someone needing a confidential talk.

"We could spend 15 minutes, five minutes, we could spend two hours on the phone with some people," Bennett said.

What makes Copline unique, he said, is that the conversation is one officer to another, someone who might best understand the hardships another law enforcement officer is facing.

Additionally, Copline conversations can be anonymous and remain confidential. An officer's agency never knows the individual made the call or was seeking mental help. That is a concern Bennet said some officers have that keeps them from seeking help in the first place.

He said on average, about one of every eight calls he answers, is from someone who might be contemplating hurting themselves.

"We've seen the increase in suicides in the police officers. … We've had a big uptick," Bennet said.

A Hillsborough County deputy also took his life within the last week.

The governor's office responded to the recent deputy deaths.

Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, released the following information about the need for resources for first responders.

Firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical service personnel are often the first on scene when a critical incident occurs, and they are repeatedly exposed to stressful and potentially traumatizing scenes and events. According to SAMHSA, 30% of first responders are affected by conditions like depression and PTSD. A first responder could experience more than 180 critical incidents in a 20-year career, many times more than the average person deals with in a lifetime. It’s clear that first responders need mental health support and resources that are tailored to their personal experiences and challenges.

Over the past three years, the DeSantis Administration – and, especially, the First Lady – have taken multiple steps to support first responders and to help all Floridians in crisis. First Lady Casey DeSantis’ Hope For Healing initiative helps Floridians navigate the many ways they can access help for mental health and substance use disorders. The First Lady and DCF announced that nearly $5 million from the Federal Crisis Counseling Program would be distributed to provide crisis counseling services through Florida’s network of 2-1-1 crisis helplines, assisting individuals in need of mental or behavioral health counseling and referrals.

First Lady Casey DeSantis announced $12 million in funding to expand peer-to-peer mental health services available for first responders, through the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to bolster existing prevention and intervention services for first responders and their families. The $12 million in funding will go to providers in all six DCF regions and will be used to create or expand existing local peer-based services. These services will help to connect first responders and their families with peers who are trained in offering information and supportive counseling.

Treasure Coast Hospice spent several hours Wednesday at the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office to help grieving friends and colleagues of the deputies.

Officers struggling with mental health or contemplating suicide can call COPLINE at 800-COP-LINE.

People wanting to help support Jayce Osteen, the baby of the two deputies, can do so bydonating to a collection at the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office. Under "designation," select "other" and under comments write "for Jayce."

A GoFundMe page was also created for Baby Jayce.