Fallen deputy to be honored on memorial
By Chris Barker, Palm Beach Post Staff
Wednesday, May 9, 2001
Leesa Hobbs remembers the stolen moments, cobbled together in furtive bunches and snatched from the seeping poison that finally took her husband.
On Friday, when the name of deputy Garry Hobbs is added to Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Fallen Deputies Memorial, the widow will receive a final gift.
"The fact that they're willing to acknowledge that this is what damaged him so profoundly -- it's been a long time coming," Leesa Hobbs said.
Garry Hobbs died Dec. 9 in Colorado after a lengthy battle with pesticide poisoning. He and another man -- tow-truck driver Matthew Blue -- were doused with Ethion, a mite- and scale-fighting chemical, about 8 a.m. on June 7, 1991. The chemical was sprayed in several passes from a low-flying helicopter while the pair was retrieving a stolen truck from an orange grove west of Delray Beach, said Blue, a single father of two who's now living in Lake Worth.
Hobbs, who didn't receive the antidote for the Ethion until 104 days after the incident, struggled to keep working for two weeks after his exposure but got sicker and sicker as the drug attacked his central nervous system.
"The stuff was so thick on the window, it was like somebody sprayed a thick coating of plastic on it," said Blue, who said he is still unable to work or exert himself. "He was slumped over the steering wheel and I was like 'What's going on?' "
Hobbs, who had moved to a drier climate for respiratory health reasons, died of a prescription drug overdose on Dec. 9, according to Fremont County (Colo.) Coroner Dorothy Twellman. Twellman ruled the death was accidental, and said there were no definite findings from an autopsy that Hobbs' chemical exposure had killed him. "It looks like what he probably did was is take some pills and when he wasn't feeling better he took some more," said Twellman, who added that Hobbs' pill bottles were not empty when he died.
The sheriff's office, which paid Hobbs a $300,000 workers compensation settlement over the poisoning, isn't sweating the details.
"The way he died, he never really got the tribute that an officer who was shot in the line of duty might of gotten," said Sgt. Mark Bohne, a member of the fallen deputies committee. Hobbs' name will be unveiled at 11 a.m. Friday on the memorial in front of the sheriff's office on Gun Club Road.
The ceremony will cap an ordeal that bounced the Vietnam War veteran and father of four between doctors and lawyers and eventually to Cotopaxi, a dot-on-the map at the eastern base of Colorado's Sangre De Cristo mountain range.
Hobbs received a $1,010,000 settlement from Land-O-Sun Groves, the helicopter operator, in 1992, according to court records. His lawyer said he received an undisclosed amount of money from other parties to the civil suit.
Hobbs' insurance company continued to fight Land-O-Sun over who was at fault until 1998, when both sides agreed to a settlement. The Florida Supreme Court ruled on the case in 1998, determining that an exemption in the deputy's insurance policy prohibited coverage, but also rejecting Land-O-Sun's premise that Ethion wasn't harmful.
Throughout the ordeal, Leesa Hobbs said her husband fought to enjoy the time he had left. The couple blew a fat 1999 tax return on a 10-day trip to Hawaii, and the former avid bass fisherman went after trout when he was able.
The illness worsened, though. Hobbs' short-term memory was so destroyed he couldn't remember which television shows he already had seen. He developed diabetes and hypertension that required frequent hospitalization, she said.
Leesa Hobbs buried her husband in the mountains near Altamont, Tenn., where he was born 53 years ago.
The pair first met in 1996 at a Boynton Beach doctor's office where Leesa Hobbs, a former Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue worker, was being treated for exposure to heavy metals. A phone romance began, and they were married June 21, 1997.
The marriage just made sense, said Tina Davis, the doctor's office worker who introduced the patients to each other.
"He never had anyone to understand what he was going through," Davis said. "Everyone else just thought he was crazy. She really knew what he was going through and it just blossomed from there. It didn't take long, it was just one of those meant-to-be things."
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