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Sandy City officials mourn police chief

(Flags placed outside Sandy City Hall in honor of Police Chief William O'Neal, who died suddenly over the weekend. Photo Credit: Paul Nelson)

SANDY – The city of Sandy is in mourning after the unexpected death of Police Chief William O’Neal.  Officers in the department say his passing was a complete surprise, and that he looked completely healthy before it happened.

The Sandy  City Police Department can confirm that William O’Neal died from a “medical event,” but, officials say the medical examiner will have to pinpoint the exact cause of death.

“When I first heard the news, I was in disbelief,” says Sandy City Police Sergeant Jason Nielsen. “There were no red flags. This was completely unexpected.”

Outside of Sandy City Hall, the main flag has been lowered and other flags have been placed all around the building to honor O’Neal.  Nielsen says O’Neal was an icon of Sandy City who was loved by many more people than just fellow police officers.

“The first moment I met him, he was always friendly, outgoing, very loud and boisterous.  He was just a great character.  He was larger than life,” Nielsen said.

O’Neal had become well-known for being one of the first officers to find Elizabeth Smart after her disappearance.  Nielsen says he spoke with his chief about this story, frequently, and that that case greatly affected his career.

Nielsen says, “It impacted me, and he, I guess, came to me as a type of a mentor and the type of an officer that I would want to be.”

In a statement, Sandy City Mayor Kurt Bradburn said, “It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to our beloved Chief of Police, William O’Neal.

“Bill has spent his life and career serving the residents of Sandy. From working as a lifeguard at Alta Canyon Recreation Center in high school to serving and leading almost every department at Sandy Police, his impact on the community cannot be measured,” the statement read.

“Bill O’Neal embodied what it means to protect and serve. Sandy residents have enjoyed a safe community over the years due in large part to his efforts and his influence.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to work with him over the last few years and will remember fondly his gregarious personality and talent for telling great stories. We ask for prayers for his family at this time.”