Saturday, December 3, 1988 will forever be etched in the minds of many Escambia County Sheriff’s Office deputies and countless local citizens. It was on this fateful weekend, which still feels like yesterday for many, that beloved Deputy Donald Ray Cook was struck and killed while manning a roadblock during a vehicle pursuit of an armed robbery. While another agency chased the suspect’s vehicle into Escambia County, the suspects attempted to run the roadblock and tragically struck Deputy Cook. The suspects were then apprehended several miles down the road when their vehicle was disabled. After 5 years serving with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and at only 37 years old, Deputy Cook’s remarkable life was suddenly cut short. Deputy Don Cook had made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the line of duty.
Deputy Cook was survived by his wife, four children, and six grandchildren.
Now, almost 34 years later, Deputy Cook’s life and legacy is being further honored, as the stretch of Davis Highway between Interstate 10 from US 29/ SR291 will now be named after him.
An official Renaming Ceremony will take place on Tuesday, April 5th at 10:30 AM at Davis Highway and Plantation Road, where the new highway sign will be placed along the highway, in proximity to the exact location Deputy Cook tragically lost his life.
It was in February 2020 when now-Sheriff Chip Simmons was contacted by retired Deputy Ed Hudson with an effort to support renaming the highway after Cook. Simmons joined a group of Cook’s family and friends in speaking before the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners and requesting a resolution to rename the highway after Deputy Don Cook. Then-Chief Deputy Simmons explained to the Board the details of Deputy Cook’s death, as well as the wishes of his family to rename the road as a testament to Deputy Cook’s life, work and sacrifice.
The Board voted unanimously to pass a resolution in support of renaming this portion of the highway after Deputy Cook on February 6th, 2020. The effect of this resolution was to move the proposition forward to our local legislature. Later in 2020, the Florida Senate and House of Representatives approved the resolution.
Sheriff Simmons feels like it is important to have the actual ceremony near the location where the accident took place, taking into account both public safety and proximity to the accident. “Honoring our fallen officers is important to me. I was working in the streets of Pensacola the night that Deputy Cook was killed, and these stories always stick with you throughout your career,” Sheriff Simmons explained. “I am honored to be in a position where we can memorialize his legacy in this way.”
The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office also named a K-9 after Deputy Cook on Dec 6. Two other K-9’s were named after fallen officers as well. K-9’s “Street,” “Heist,” and “Cook” all honor fallen deputies as they continue their passion of serving the community with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.
A team of impassioned deputies and staff worked diligently to plan Tuesday’s renaming ceremony, including Community Relations Liaison Ronnie Rivera and Acting Commander Jeremy Small, who is married to Deputy Cook’s daughter, Ms. Shoan Small.
“It was so meaningful for me to be able to work on this project and help bring peace and comfort to Deputy Cook’s family,” Rivera expressed. “Tuesday’s ceremony is important to so many people in our community.”
The ceremony was delayed due to COVID restrictions, however, Cook’s family is grateful to see the actual signage which renames the highway finally go up this week. Cook’s daughter and son- Shoan Small and Donnie Cook- feel proud to see a memorial honoring their father’s selfless actions.
“There is not a day that goes by that someone doesn’t share a story about our father with us,” Donnie stated, fondly remembering his father’s positive disposition. “Our dad would go out of his way to do things for others, and he could always make anybody smile.”
“Working at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and being a part of that law enforcement family meant everything to him. Before he became a deputy, he would ride on a bicycle around and make siren sounds when he was younger!” Donnie said. “He always had the goal to be a Deputy, and was passionate about his service.”
Donnie Cook explained that his father’s mentor was former Chief Deputy Norman Silcox. After Don Cook’s parents passed away when he was around 9 or 10 years old, his sisters raised him and he became close to their friend Chief Silcox, who even took him to school when he was younger and eventually influenced his love of protecting and serving others.
Don Cook was even once jokingly awarded the “Taxi of the Year” by his ECSO colleagues. “He would always take more people home than to jail,” Donnie explained.
“There is not a day that goes by where we don’t think about our dad. We believe he sends us signs to let us know he is watching out for us,” Shoan explained. Deputy Cook’s radio number was 256, which remains very special to his children. “There are no words to describe what this memorial means to us.”
Shoan was 17 and Donnie was 15 when they lost their father. His children were the last people to see him before the accident. While their father remains in their memory and in their hearts every single day, it gives his family comfort to think of others seeing his name and being reminded of his legacy while they are driving along the highway.
“If others are driving by and they see the sign, and they smile with a memory of him- you can’t put into words what that truly means to us,” said Shoan. “Even seeing his name on top of the cruiser where K-9 Cook travels makes it feel like he’s out there working again.”
Shoan and Donnie shared that the Escambia County Sheriff’ Office has been wondering to their family. “He would be pleased with his fellow deputies and how they all stepped up to be there for his kids,” Shoan said. At the time of the accident, there was such a shock within the ECSO community, and both active and retired deputies became very protective of Cook’s family.
“It is always good to hear these stories from his colleagues- we’re so glad they are continuous. Our dad always had a goal of treating people who you wanted to be treated,” Donnie stated.
“Dad had met an older man who was homeless, who lived in the woods on Highway 29 in a tent. He would go by there and bring him blankets and food. He even took us- his family- out to meet him as well so that we would continue visiting him,” Shoan recollected.
Donnie and Shoan have worked to instill in their own kids the same values of kindness, compassion, and service that their father instilled in them. “Our kids know the kind of person he was, it is like they knew him,” Donnie said. “We wish he could have been around for the grandkids, but it is nice to know they are keeping his memory alive.”
UPDATED: The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office will have a Memorial Highway Renaming Ceremony in memory of Deputy Don Cook on April 5th, 2022 at 10:30 a.m. Due to weather related issues, the memorial will now be held at the ECSO in training room one and not on the actual highway.