Family and friends mourn the loss of former deputy fire chief killed in Buckeye crash

PHOENIX (FOX 10) - A recently retired deputy fire chief is killed in a car crash. After 40 years of service, Eric Merrill wanted to enjoy the rest of his life, but it tragically ended Saturday morning. His family and friends at the Rio Verde Fire Department are grieving tonight.

This is a heartbreaking story. Eric Merrill loved serving. A veteran of the Marine Corps, a paramedic, a firefighter, even a jiu-jitsu teacher. This man lived his life with honor. We spoke to Rio Verde's fire chief and Merrill's wife about what retirement held next.

April 30 was Eric Merrill's retirement party. The Rio Verde deputy chief was ready to walk off into the sunset. Chief Jay Ducote remembers his right-hand man as a well-respected colleague.

"He had institutional knowledge of paramedicine," Chief Ducote said. "I mean, he was very smart. He was one of the best paramedics I've ever seen."

Now, three weeks into retirement on a Saturday morning, Merrill was driving with his son in Buckeye when police say a car crashed into them at Palo Verde and Yuma roads.

Merrill's wife Deana says they planned to celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary in Flagstaff. She's still in shock, asking why her husband is dead at 59.

"Right now, I'm still at the point where as long as I don't admit that this happened, he's still alive, he's still [going] come home," Deana said. "To me, it's [going to] be a bad joke but I know when I get home this evening and I walk in the door and I'm alone and I have to look at the pictures on the wall and they gave me his phone and his wallet - it will become real."

Deana says Eric loved serving and teaching people. he was proud of being married to his soulmate for decades.

"He had always promised me that he would grow old with me become an 80-year-old man and I'd be sick and tired of him," Deana said. "And he didn't get that."

The Rio Verde Fire Department is taking care of Merrill's funeral arrangements. Meanwhile, his adult son is recovering from the crash and will be OK.