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O'Brien's Fish Fry for Cancer Fighter Deputy Dan Witt

A fish fry Friday, Dec. 14 at O'Brien's Irish Pub in Brandon will raise money for Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Witt. The 33-year-old is stricken with cancer and fighting for his life.

 

When an officer is down, the entire law enforcement community traditionally comes to his aid.

And fellow deputies are making no exception for Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Witt.

The 33-year-old patrol deputy for the sheriff's District 1, which includes northern Hillsborough County, is in a fight for his life against cancer.

To offset his medical expenses and ensure that he, his wife, Erin, and his children, Emma, 10, Molly, 8, Jackson, 4 and Eva, 1, have a merry Christmas, deputies are organizing a fish fry fundraiser Friday, Dec. 14, at O'Brien's Irish Pub and Family Restaurant in Brandon, at 701 West Lumsden Road.

The event will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and feature fried fish and fries for $7.99. Residents can eat in or order to go. Businesses ordering at least 10 dinners can have the meals delivered for free. Orders should be called in by Dec. 13 at 813-661-9688.

The fundraiser will continue at O'Brien's with live entertainment by the hard rock band, Scream Machine, starting at 7 p.m.

The band's lead singer, John Hajj, is also the community resource deputy for Northdale. Hajj is organizing Friday's fundraiser.

"Dan is a 13-year deputy and I've personally worked with him on the streets for years," said Hajj. "I was trying to think of something I can do to help him and, since I sing in the band on the side, I thought I'd combine that with a fundraiser for Dan. Dan is just one of those deputies. When things go bad, you always felt good knowing Dan was there."

In addition to the performance by Scream Machine, there will be a raffle featuring a day cruise out of Longboat Key for 10 on 70-foot yacht, a $1,900 Dean electric guitar, a piece of jewelry from the Gold & Diamon Source, a Nascar signed helmet by Kevin Harvick and a $300 spa package to Boulevard Salon. Winners will be announced at 9 p.m.

Hajj noted that O'Brien's owner Sean Rice is donating all of the food for the fundraiser.

Seminole Heights resident Selina O'Shannon, the wife of sheriff's helicopter pilot Deputy Stuart O’Shannon, is assisting with the fundraiser. Deputy O'Shannon is Witt's closest friend.

"It's a very sad situation," said Selina O'Shannon. "Very, very heartbreaking."

Witt's battle began years ago when he had a mole on his leg checked and doctors discovered he had Stage 4 melanoma.

"He successfully battled that and was cancer free for five years," said O'Shannon.

But then Witt began experiencing stomach problems. Doctors found he had a 10-pound inoperable tumor in his stomach.

Witt, who lives in Wesley Chapel, is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer & Research Center. Just last week, his doctors reported there were signs of dead cancer cells.

"That's a very positive sign," said O'Shannon. "It shows the chemotherapy is having some impact. That was a good prognosis for moving forward with more chemotherapy."

The cancer has taken a visible toll on the once-athletic 6-foot-1-inch-tall deputy.

"He was always the picture of health," said Hajj. "It's difficult to watch what this has done to him."

"He's now very thin and frail," said O'Shannon, noting that the deputy spent two days in a medically induced coma. "My husband spent the entire time in the ICU with Dan."

The cancer also has taken a toll on the family's finances. Witt, who is on extended medical leave, is currently earning just 60 percent of his salary as a deputy. And his wife, who is caring for Witt and the four children, is unable to work.

Nevertheless, O'Shannon said Witt's spirit has never waned.

"He's such a wonderful person," she said. "It's very inspiring. He's never given up. When doctors told him his prognosis, his reaction was, 'I'm not done fighting.'"

"We didn’t know if he would be around for this benefit," said Hajj. "But he’s still fighting. In fact, he hopes to make an appearance at the fundraiser."

Those who are unable to attend the fish fry can still assist Witt and his family by making donations to the Lynn Sowers Memorial Foundation in Witt's name. The foundation was formed in honor of Deputy Lynn Sowers to benefit Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office employees in times of catastrophic need.

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