Sandy community mourns loss of Chief O’Neal, remembers his big lifeJan 22, 2020 10:39AM ● By Justin Adams
Sandy Police Chief William “Bill” O’Neal passed away on Jan. 12. He served the residents of Sandy across multiple positions throughout his 25-year career with the department. (Photo via Sandy City)
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
The Sandy city community was rocked on the night of Sunday, Jan. 12, when the city’s police department announced the unexpected passing of Chief William (Bill) O’Neal at the age of 48.
O’Neal had only been the city’s police chief since the summer of last year, but his legacy in the city started building long before that as a police officer of nearly every possible rank and position over the course of his 25-year career, almost all of it with the Sandy Police Department. From the time he joined the department in 1995, O’Neal served as a patrol officer, a DARE officer, a SWAT officer and a community-oriented officer. He appeared in both local and national headlines in 2003 when he helped rescue kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart, but also impacted thousands of others’ lives in ways that didn’t make the news.
“We needed some help with a couple neighborhood issues and he was personally involved in the resolution of those issues,” commented one Sandy resident on Facebook.
“Bill personally gave me a new respect for law enforcement. He was a great officer and even a better man,” said another.
A funeral service was held for O’Neal at Juan Diego High School on Saturday, Jan. 18. One thing was clear from the service: O’Neal was a big man, who lived big, but most importantly, had a big heart.
Deputy Chief (and now interim chief) Greg Severson recounted the first day that he had ever met O’Neal.
“The thing I noticed about him was how big he was. He was a big-sized guy. He had big confidence and he had a big personality. There was nothing small about him. Everything was big,” he said.
Former Sandy police officer and current chief of Draper’s police department John Eining told a story of a time when O’Neal got in a motorcycle crash that resulted in his body being thrown forward off the bike and into the rear of the car in front of him. “We paid out more damage on the car than we did on him,” he said.
Or there was a time when a bullet fragment struck O’Neal’s head. “If you knew Bill’s head, you’d know we weren’t concerned about his head, we were concerned about the bullet,” Eining said.
O’Neal lived as big as he was. Many of the speakers spoke about his love for big trucks.
“Bill got a new truck every single time they took one of his current trucks in for service. I am convinced that the salesmen circled their calendars, and even made advent calendars, counting down the days until he’d bring his truck in for service, cause they were going to probably put their kids through college with the amount of commission they made off of Bill,” said Cole Wagstaff, a family friend.
He also liked big watches, which were big enough to make Flavor Flav jealous, according to Severson.
O’Neal was someone who loved people, particularly talking to people and telling stories, multiple speakers attested.
“There was never a five-minute conversation with Bill. It was always 30 minutes, or an hour,” said Severson. (This is a fact that this reporter can personally attest to.)
“I spent most of my time writing this speech typing out all my Bill stories, and then promptly deleting them after realizing all our stories aren’t ‘safe for work,’” said Sergeant Amy DeNeff of the Sandy Police Department.
On a similar note, Wagstaff said he “thought of Bill as what Christ would be like… if Christ had a more colorful mouth.”
Mayor Kurt Bradburn also drew comparisons between O’Neal and Jesus.
“He went about doing good, and he loved everyone,” said Bradburn.
One story shared by Bradburn seemed to encapsulate who O’Neal was as a person, and as a police officer.
“I made him come on a junior high bus ride-along for safety week,” recounted Bradburn. “He was such a good sport and came along and did it but it wasn’t long before he had all the kids on the bus all riled up. He was arm-wrestling like four of them at a time… they all wanted autographs so sharpies were flying back and forth. It was just like a melee, and at one point Terry the bus driver turned around and said, ‘You know this is the least safe my kids have ever been.’”
“That was just what I loved about him. It didn’t matter if you grew up with him and knew him for decades or if you were a resident who just had two minutes with him, he made you feel incredibly valuable.”