TITUSVILLE, Fla. – A Titusville McDonald's is honoring two fallen Brevard County deputies by reserving a special table for them at the restaurant, News 6 partner Florida Today.
Joe Rodriguez, the owner of the McDonald's at 3290 Garden Street in Titusville, is remembering deputies Kevin Stanton and Johnathan "Keith" Hardin by transforming one of the tables in the restaurant into a memorial.
The table will be held in the deputies' honor for the next several weeks.
Stanton and Hardin were both killed this month in separate vehicle accidents. Stanton's marked patrol car collided with a semi truck in the early hours of Feb. 17 on Interstate 95. Hardin was killed a week later in an off-duty motorcycle accident in Palm Bay.
Rodriguez put up the memorial this past Thursday, originally to honor Stanton. Hardin died the following day, just hours after Stanton's funeral service.
"I was hurt that morning when I heard it was a deputy and that it was a tragic accident," Rodriguez said, speaking of Stanton. "He lived around the block from the store and he's visited the store before. I figured it would be a good thing to do this for him."
Coming from law enforcement family, Rodriguez has a special appreciation for the men and women in uniform. A former auxiliary officer himself, Rodriguez's father is a retired police lieutenant and his son is a police officer in New Jersey.
Rodriguez thinks that may be why Stanton's death was especially hard on him and why he was moved to construct the memorial.
"I see him as my son. My heart broke," he said. "I wanted people to see that [officers and deputies] are regular human beings, regular people."
The funeral service for Stanton was Friday. Following a service at new Life Christian Fellowship, the procession of hundreds of law enforcement and civilian vehicles headed to Oaklawn Memorial Gardens, where hundreds gathered. Along the way, supporters gathered along the sidewalks holding signs, flags, and saluting.
Riding along with Stanton's funeral procession, Rodriguez was impressed by the outpouring of support from the community.
"I was touched to see people out there with flags and saluting the police," he said. "We need more people to get together. We need to love each other more."
Hardin's death on Friday was a second blow to Brevard's law enforcement community and to supporters like Rodriguez. He is having a placard made of Hardin, which he plans to add to the memorial.
"I want to show people it's OK to honor the police," he said. "They're out there taking care of us, day in and day out. They're putting their lives in harm's way for us."
The table will remain reserved for the two deputies for the next two to three weeks, Rodriguez said.
The McDonald's owner has often used his restaurant as a forum to honor fallen law enforcement and bring local police and deputies together with the community. Most recently, the restaurant hosted the "Coffee with a Cop" event in October.