Raleigh, N.C. — Hundreds gathered Wednesday to bid farewell to a Raleigh fire captain, a week after he died in a head-on wreck in Oxford.
Capt. Jonathan Scott Nipper died Dec. 21 when he lost control of his car along a rain-slicked U.S. Highway 15 and collided with another vehicle. His 10-year-old daughter, Gracie, and the other driver were injured but survived.
Firefighters said Gracie was still recovering at Duke University Medical Center and wasn't able to travel for her father's memorial service at Providence Baptist Church and funeral at Raleigh Memorial Park.
Her mother said Nipper saved his daughter's life.
"I feel like, in my heart, that he turned that car enough to take the brunt of the accident," Amy Nipper said during the memorial service. "I told her, 'Your daddy took the brunt of that accident for you because that's what daddies do.'"
Those who knew Scott Nipper best said that faith was a strong part of his life – and so was his family.
"He wasn't just a dad to me. He was my best friend," Cody Nipper said in eulogizing his father. "The 16 years I got to know my dad were the greatest years I could ever ask for."
Cody Nipper said he and his father talked about everything, from girls to homework.
"I'm going to miss him. I love my dad," he said.
The family thanked the fire department and the Raleigh community for their support over the past week.
Fire Chief John McGrath said the support will continue, as firefighters plan to help modify the Nipper home to help with Gracie's recovery.
The fire truck Nipper captained – Engine 13 at Fire Station No. 1 in downtown Raleigh – was parked outside Providence Baptist Church as family and friends arrived for the service. The Raleigh Fire Department's honor guard was also on hand.
"That’s really a tribute to him as a member of our team and also to the team that he worked with that they wanted to be a part of saying good-bye and the grieving process," McGrath said.
He called Nipper a quiet leader who earned his way up the ranks with hard work, and he called Nipper's death "a blow to the soul."
"He was a very well-respected guy, pretty quiet, extremely competent and truly truly liked in the department,” the chief said.
Scott Nipper had been with the Raleigh Fire Department for the past 15 years. He became captain three years ago.
He was described by his co-workers as a joker, someone who was fond of pranks but also a friend to those he supervised.
"If my sons could grow up to be like he was, I'll be one proud father," one firefighter said.
The Raleigh Fire Department has lost three firefighters in the past three years to wrecks.
Lt. Harry P. "Flip" Kissinger IV, 35, of Wake Forest, died Dec. 11, 2009, a week after a school bus struck the pickup truck he was driving. Kissinger was with Fire Station 6.
Firefighter Andrew Johnson died Dec. 5, 2008, from injuries sustained in an ATV wreck.
"Sudden death is hard. Death is part of life. None of us like it. None of us know the answers, and you just have to trust, trust that there is a higher being looking out for all of us,” McGrath said.