Last week a dark cloud of sadness covered Marco Island as the word regarding the loss of Police Lt. Clayton Smith began to move through the island as a result of an off-duty motor vehicle accident.
Lt. Smith departed P.D. Headquarters on Wednesday evening and proceed westbound on San Marco Road and begin to pass through the intersection of South Heathwood Drive only two blocks from his home. Another vehicle headed eastbound turned into the path of Lt. Smith, impacting his vehicle.
Marco Island/Fire Rescue and Collier County EMS personnel were on the scene immediately rendering aid to the seriously injured Smith. Med/Flight was immediately requested as a Trauma Alert was called for by on-scene personnel and Smith was airlifted to the Lee Memorial Trauma Center. Smith, unfortunately, did not survive the serious injuries sustained as a result of the crash.
Smith’s wife, family, department personnel and close friends gathered at the Lee Memorial Hospital until the early morning hours.
Smith was a 25-year veteran of the Springfield, Ohio Police Department, retiring in 2014 at the rank of sergeant. While there, he served in several areas of expertise, to include that of a firearms instructor and as a member of the Hamilton County Swat Team. Upon being notified of the passing of Smith, Springfield Township Chief of Police, Colonel Robert Browder stated, “Our Police Department is heartbroken to hear the tragic news. Clayton will forever be in our hearts. Please keep Clayton’s family, friends and fellow law enforcement officers in your thoughts and prayers.”
Many of the Marco Department were devastated upon hearing the news regarding the tragedy involving their Lieutenant, as was former Police Chief Al Schettino. In 2018, Schettino promoted Smith to the rank of Lieutenant, placing him in charge of the Road Patrol Division for the department.
“Clayton loved his family, his work and those he worked with,” stated Schettino. “He was a no-nonsense type of individual who acted as a great mentor to the younger officers within the department. His experience, knowledge and leadership abilities will be missed I am sure. My family’s prayers go out to Lisa and the entire Smith family as she deals with this terrible heartbreak.
“Our prayers also go out to the entire staff of the department, our emergency responders and our new Police Chief as she deals with the loss of such a valuable employee while assisting her staff in dealing with this tragedy.”
City Manager Michael McNees also commented on Smith’s unfortunate passing. “The outpouring of love and respect from this community for Lt. Smith and his family is a testament to the wonderful character of this island and its residents. All of us within the city staff mourn the loss of Clayton and send our respects to Lisa and her entire family as they grieve for the man they loved. We also are respectful of the loss felt by our first responder family who have had to deal with this tragedy.”
Marco Police Chief Tracy Frazzano also echoed the sentiments of the city manager when she commented. “Needless to say, our entire department mourns this devastating loss. Clayton was a valued member of our Command Staff and the void in both our hearts and the job itself will be felt for a long time. Our deepest sympathies and love go out to Lisa and her entire family.”
When it came to describing Lt. Smith’s devotion to his job and those he served, nothing came closer to exposing the true character of the man than a story from two residents of the island—Bruce and Margaret Merklinghaus. While looking after a young child one weekend, they attended an event at Mackle Park. During the course of that visit to the park, the youngster misplaced a favorite toy and became quite distraught. Bruce mentioned that it was Lt. Smith who searched with other personnel to no avail.
While working the night shift, Lt. Smith returned to Mackle Park once again that Saturday evening and make an inquiry as to whether someone had turned in the toy. As it turned out, someone had, and Lt. Smith called the Merklinghaus family and advised them the object of the child’s affection was indeed found.
Smith requested that he would be able to return with the toy on Sunday morning and reunite the young man with his prized possession. Smith took time away from his own family on that Sunday morning, dress in a clean uniform and returned to the Merklighaus’ family home with a squad car and the toy to the great delight of the child.
By his actions, Smith left a positive impression on the young man regarding those that wore the uniform and the badge. As a secondary lesson, it provided confirmation of the character and professionalism of the man, who just also happened to be a police officer on Marco Island and wore that uniform with pride, distinction and honor.
Smith leaves behind his wife and seven children.
The Coastal Breeze News and its staff salutes Lt. Clayton Belmont Smith for his dedication to his community and his profession, while extending its condolences to the Smith Family and their wide circle of acquaintances and friends.