PEMBROKE PINES, FLA. (WSVN) - A longtime Pembroke Pines Police motorman has died after a serious crash in Pembroke Pines, making him the first officer in the department’s history to die in the line of duty, police said.

Police and fire rescue units arrived at the scene of a car crash on Northwest 184th Avenue, south of Sheridan Street and west of Interstate 75, late Thursday morning.

Investigators said Pembroke Pines Police Motorman Charles Herring was patrolling on his motorcycle when he was involved in what they described as a freak accident.

According to police, the motorman was heading south on 184th Avenue when he was struck by a piece of debris that fell from a palm tree, just before 11:30 a.m.

Speaking a news conference held Thursday night, Pembroke Pines Police Chief Kipp Shimpeno provided further details about the crash.

“He was operating that motorcycle when a palm frond fell from a palm tree and struck the officer as he was doing nothing more than driving down the road,” he said. “That action caused him to be thrown from the bike.”

Paramedics transported the 54-year-old officer to Memorial Regional Hospital. Emergency medical staff could be seen awaiting the ambulance outside.

Sadly, it was too late. Herring was pronounced dead.

“My officers all know this Pembroke Pines Police Department is a family. We’re hurting here,” said Shimpeno.

Back at the scene, 7SkyForce hovered overhead as detectives took a picture of a palm frond in the middle of 184th Avenue and examined the victim’s mangled motorcycle.

“It is scary. Palm trees here, if you live in Florida, you’re used to it, right? You’re used to palm trees in the middle,” said area resident Justo Espinosa, “but that could happen out of the blink of an eye. That is sad. It could happen to me jogging, falling on top of my head.”

Hours later, Shimpeno called Herring a hero and referred to his death as an unfortunate tragedy.

“Charlie was a brother in this police department,” he said.

Shimpeno also confirmed this is the first officer in the department’s history to lose his life in the line of duty.

Herring was a 21-year veteran with the police department. He leaves behind four children.

“[They] will be without a father tonight,” said Rod Skirvin, president of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association. “We are with them in their moments of grief tonight and in the upcoming days.”

Hundreds of law enforcement officers, including fellow motormen, gathered at the hospital in a show of solidarity toward the fallen officer.

7News cameras captured officers speaking with Herring’s friends and family members outside the hospital.

Skirvin was also on hand.

“He was known as a jolly guy. He was a big guy but known as a jolly guy, very friendly, served as a motorman for several years for the Pembroke Pines Police Department and just an all-around good guy,” he said.

“Life just kind of, in the flash of an eye, can go away that quickly,” said Espinosa. “I feel so sad for his family.”

Just after 4 p.m., officers outside Memorial Regional Hospital stood silently and saluted Herring’s coffin as it was loaded onto a Pembroke Pines Fire Rescue ambulance.

The officers rushed to their motorcycles and provided an escort to the medical examiner’s office in Davie for an autopsy. The ambulance’s lights were on, but the vehicle was silent. Several roadways were temporarily shut down as the procession took place.

Flags were lowered to half-staff at the Pembroke Pines Police Department.

Herring would have turned 55 in March.

He was a father of four.

“Unfortunately, he had a birthday coming up next month. It’s a tragedy,” said Skirvin.

“I really can’t explain it, other than it’s got to be an act of God, unfortunately,” said Shimpeno.

In 2009, 7News featured Herring after he saved a man’s life who had suffered a heart attack outside the Broward County Courthouse.

“I got on the radio, requested rescue to respond. This gentleman came up,” he said during a news conference.

Herring was able to greet the man later, at the hospital.

As a result of the crash, police temporarily closed off 184th Avenue, between Johnson and 23rd streets.

By 6 p.m., Herring’s personal belongings were removed from the road, and his motorcycle was towed away. The roadway has since reopened to traffic.

After night fell, a police academy cadet stopped at the crash site and left a bouquet of flowers by the side of the road.

The crash remains under investigation.

A memorial fund has been set up for Officer Herring. If you would like to donate, click here.

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