Dozens of K-9 officers from area law enforcement agencies gathered Tuesday to salute their longtime colleague Lt. Steven Whitstine, the East Baton Rouge sheriff's deputy who died of heart failure while driving to work last Thursday.
They joined family and friends for visitation and funeral services at First Baptist Church in Zachary.
Capt. James Broussard led Whitstine's dog "Sixx" up to the open casket for a last goodbye in the final minutes of visitation. The dog greeted Whitstine's family members seated in the front row before being led back outside the church. Then the casket was closed and the service began.
Friends and colleagues were mourning the loss Thursday of an East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy who spent decades training dogs for law …
Several relatives and colleagues shared tributes to Whitstine during the service, remembering his dedication to his three biggest loves: law enforcement, music and his family.
He left behind his wife of 20 years and their two adult children.
Whitstine, 42, had served as a K-9 officer with the sheriff's office for the past eight years. He started his career with the Louisiana Department of Corrections, working in the dog training program at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center. He then moved to the Baker Police Department and served for nine years as a K-9 officer before later transferring to the sheriff's office to help expand the K-9 division there.
"I never found a question or a problem about dogs that Steven didn't have a solution for," said Cpl. Ryan Distefano, another K-9 officer with the sheriff's office. "We had been training our new dogs together for the past few weeks and I was so excited to soak up his knowledge."
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Whitstine had spent several months searching for his next K-9 partner before acquiring Sixx just weeks before his death.
The dog received only minor injuries when Whitstine's marked police unit veered suddenly off the road in rural Zachary early Thursday morning and overturned in a roadside canal. An autopsy later showed the officer had died from congestive heart failure in the moments leading up to the crash.
Distefano said what's been weighing most heavily on him is that he never said goodbye to Whitstine before leaving work Wednesday evening. They left at separate times and didn't get to exchange the usual "see you tomorrow."
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"He's gone from us far too soon," said East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux during an emotional speech. "But as this quote says, 'it's not the years in your life but the life in your years that counts.' Steven's life counted. … He made an everlasting impact on so many for the good."
Whitstine was a singer and guitarist who loved to entertain his friends with renditions of Elvis Presley songs — two of his favorites were played during the service.
The ceremony concluded when K-9 deputies carried the casket outside and paused as the traditional "last call" was performed. A dispatcher's voice called Whitstine's number K-9 11, then after a long pause noted that he was not responding because he had ended his watch.
"Thank you, Lt. Whitstine, for your hard work, dedication and many years of service," the dispatcher said. "Your K-9 partner Sixx and your brothers and sisters will take your watch from here. You will not be forgotten."