Mississippi deputy who died rescuing son remembered as hero

Published 1:52 pm Sunday, July 26, 2020

A funeral was held Sunday for a Mississippi sheriff’s deputy who drowned while saving his 10-year-old son at a Florida beach.

William Nichols, who died Wednesday in Walton County, Florida, was director of the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue Unit for the past seven years. That means Nichols often directed efforts to pluck people from the Mississippi River or the county’s lakes.

Nichols swam out and saved his son from a rip current, but was pulled back out into the Gulf of Mexico amid strong winds and waves. He died at a Florida hospital.

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The 33-year-old’s death brought shock in suburban DeSoto County just south of Memphis, Tennessee.

“We are diminished. We miss him already. You can see obviously he was someone who was loved and we will honor him and his legacy,” said Desoto County Chief Deputy Justin Smith, who escorted Nichols’ body home, told WHBQ-TV. Smith worked under Nichols for a time.

“He saved his own son, I don’t know how many people could do something like that,” said Jerald Wheeler, a DeSoto deputy and Nichols’ uncle. “He knew the dangers of it because of his training in swift water rescue.”

Nichols’ father had also directed the search and rescue team, and Nichols began tagging along on missions as a boy.