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Son of fallen deputy still drives his dad's car; recognized often after Denver7 story hits 10M views

Posted: 11:24 PM, Dec 28, 2016
Updated: 2016-12-29 01:24:23-05

GREELEY -- It's been 19 months since Tanner Brownlee got the gift he thought he missed out on.

Since May 2015, he's put almost 19,000 miles on that gift.

"I just drive it all the time," said Brownlee. "I don't know the word for it, but it's sentimental for me."

Brownlee is the son of Sam Brownlee, a Weld County Sheriff's Deputy who was killed in the line of duty in 2010.

Last May, he raised more than $3,000 on GoFundMe to help try to buy his dad's squad car when the Weld County Sheriff's Office auctioned it off for charity. At that auction, he planned to bid up to $12,500. He was quickly outbid, and ultimately Weld County rancher Steve Wells bought the car for $60,000 and handed the keys directly to Tanner.

Denver7's story about that auction just hit 10 million views on YouTube on Christmas morning.

"Why do you think that story resonated with so many people," asked Denver7 reporter Marshall Zelinger.

"When people see it, it makes them happy or it gives them a feeling that they don't usually get from the news sometimes," said Brownlee. "I just like how it's around Christmas time, people are still watching it, like, 'Hey, this is a good story, it's Christmas time.'"

"You're the new Justin Bieber," said Zelinger.

"Uh, no, no," Brownlee laughed.

When Wells bought the car at auction and handed Brownlee the keys, it was their first encounter.

"You met him that night, right?" asked Zelinger.

"Yeah, it was in the parking lot. It was like a two-minute conversation. It was like, 'Hey, I'm Steve Wells,'" said Brownlee.

They've only spoke one other time since, just a few weeks ago.

"He was telling me that he was going to buy the car for the women's shelter, and then when his son told him my story, he from then on was just like, I'm going to buy the car for him," said Brownlee. "For Steve Wells to spend that amount of money on someone he didn't even know, some kid, some 19-year-old at the time, it's just awesome for him to do that."

Brownlee has yet to take his dad's car out of the state. The farthest he's gone so far is Estes Park. He has made some additions, with a sticker recognizing his dad on the outside, and a Weld County Sheriff's Deputy patch on the inside.

Driving that car around Greeley has given him a lot attention, seeing that so many people know who he is.

"I'll go places and people will be like, 'Hey, Tanner,'" said Brownlee. "It's kind of weird that a bunch of people know my face and stuff like that."

He also said he's received messages from people around the world who have watched the story from last May.

"I have 407 friend requests," he said. "I still get people from Facebook messaging me and my brother all the time, 'Hey, congratulations on the car.'"

His most recent message came on Dec. 17. He showed us one from October and another one from just before Christmas last year.

"Hi Tanner, I just saw your story about the auction and getting your dad's squad car. Just want to say as a retired Bridgeport, Connecticut police officer, I'm so sorry about having to read about your dad's passing," read the one from last Christmas.

"Hello Tanner, I'm from Germany and I saw you in (sic) TV. Your story show (sic) us that humanity is not dead. Sorry for my poor English and sorry that I write to you," read the one from October.

He told us he's considering getting a second car for every day use, but will keep his dad's car forever.

"Give it to my kids, if I have any," he said. "It's just something I want to pass down."

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