A salute to a group of unsung heroes in Georgia

Published 4:50 pm Friday, September 9, 2016

I spoke recently to the Peace Officers’ Association of Georgia at their annual conference in Savannah and was privileged to witness a group of dedicated law enforcement officers being honored by the POAG for their heroism. Here are their stories, much abridged because of space limitations.

Marietta Police Officers Jayson Duncan and Enrique Mallen were patrolling a known drug area when they attempted to stop a suspicious vehicle. The driver sped away onto the interstate, crashing into a tractor-trailer and catching the car on fire. Duncan and Mallen rushed to the suspect’s car to rescue him, only to have him resist their efforts. Still, these two officers risked their own lives to save his.

Sergeant Chris Hodge, of the Department of Natural Resources, came upon a traffic crash on I-95 in Glynn County. The driver was seriously injured and not breathing. Sergeant Hodge began performing CPR. He was able to successfully resuscitate the driver and transport her to the hospital. Without his quick action, the driver would have likely died at the scene.

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In two separate but equally critical situations, Ranger First Class Michael Crawley, also with DNR, managed to coax a woman who was threatening to jump over a bridge rail in Bartow County long enough to grab her at the precise moment and save her life. Griffin Police Sergeant Chris Wilson faced a similar situation and also was able to stop a female from jumping by calming talking to her until he could pull her away from the bridge.

Georgia State Trooper First Class Rodney Curtis and Trooper J. Salcedo were called to assist Pickens County deputies with a domestic dispute. Curtis and Salcedo learned that Pickens County deputies had encountered a man with a handgun who was refusing to comply with the deputies. The subject started firing at the deputies, wounding one, and shooting at Trooper Curtis, who returned fire, saving his life and the lives of the other officers present.

DNR Sergeant Damon Winters received a call regarding two capsized vessels in the Sapelo Sound. There were seven people in the middle of the sound hanging onto the capsized boats. Despite rough seas, Sgt. Winters was able to maneuver his boat near them and rescue all seven, including a 6-year-old. All victims were in various stages of hypothermia. The three in most serious condition he got to the hospital in Savannah. Credit him with saving seven lives at the risk of his own.

Georgia State Patrol Trooper First Class Jacob Fields attempted to stop a speeding car but the suspect fled, going 98 mph in a 55 mph construction zone and risking the lives of a lot of innocent people. Trooper Bryan Burchett and Trooper Edel Apodaca were able to box in the vehicle, but when Trooper Fields exited his patrol car, the violator shot him once in the stomach and a second time in the foot before being captured.

The POAG’s prestigious Valor Award went to Georgia State Patrol Cpl. Shaun Browder. He flat earned it. Cpl. Browder received a call to assist other law enforcement officers with a gunman in Oglethorpe County who had shot his girlfriend and was holding her hostage. He later threw her out of a moving vehicle and took another hostage, a logging truck driver. Trooper Browder chased him on foot as well as in his patrol car, got shot at multiple times, had his rifle jam and still managed to force the bad guy to surrender. Oh, and did I tell you that after all that, he also tended to the second hostage who had been shot multiple times?

In that one room that one evening in Savannah, I counted more than 20 lives that had been saved as a result of these officers’ actions — some innocent lives, some not so innocent, some the officers’ own lives. What I heard was something that happens day after day across Georgia. Unsung heroes who are not paid near what they are worth, risking their lives for us.

As for the few bad apples that seem to get all the attention these days from the bullhorn bleaters, I can assure you that no one is working harder to get rid of them than the law enforcement community. I will have more to say on that subject in a future column. But today the focus is on the good guys. They deserve our applause and our gratitude. I was honored to be with them. I wish you could have been there, too.