When two widows of Bibb County law enforcement officers learned recently that two Peach County deputies had been killed on the job, it was like someone had ripped open a scab.
Then, just two weeks later, 53-year-old U.S. Marshal Pat Carothers was fatally shot while serving a warrant in south Georgia.
Nikki McDonald, 44, and Karen Tarver Gray, 56, said they felt raw — the kind of hurt that comes with the reopening of an old wound.
“We’re like sisters from two different mothers. We share common loss,” Gray said, adding that they met in 2008 at a law enforcement motorcycle club’s ride for fallen officers.
Gray’s husband, Macon police Sgt. Preston Kinney “PK” Jones, died a few hours after a crash Oct. 27, 1989. Jones’ patrol car slammed into a utility pole at Mercer University Drive and Pio Nono Avenue as he was was rushing to a “signal 64” — police language for an officer’s call for help. Jones, 28, had been on the job for seven years.
Bibb County sheriff’s Deputy Chad McDonald died three days after he sustained serious head injuries in a crash Dec. 19, 2007. McDonald, 29, made a left turn in his patrol car from the southbound lanes of Ga. 247 onto the Cargill Road connector when his car was struck by an oncoming jeep. His son, Tyler, was just 2 years old.
Nikki McDonald met slain Peach County Deputy Daryl Smallwood while he was working at Dooly State Prison in Unadilla. She said Smallwood had introduced her to Chad.
Both women’s husbands’ funerals took place in Macon City Auditorium and were well attended by law enforcement agencies from all over the state.
Tuesday evening, Gray, McDonald and 11-year-old Tyler McDonald traveled to every sheriff’s precinct in Bibb County, toting gift bags full of candy — Lifesavers to represent the many times officers save lives, Smarties candy to represent the wisdom needed to make quick, smart decisions and gum to remind deputies to stick together.
“We decided to do ‘thanks for giving’ bags to show the deputies in Bibb County that we still care,” McDonald said before walking inside precinct No. 1 on Shurling Drive beside Roses Discount Store. “With everything that’s happening in the news and with cops throughout the nation, they may feel like no one cares, but we want to show them that we do care. There’s people out there in the community that also care and want to help and show their appreciation for each one of them.”
It’s been a particularly tough year for law enforcement in Middle Georgia. Bibb County sheriff’s Deputy T.J. Freeman, 29, was killed in a car crash May 5 while chasing a suspect. Eastman Police Officer Tim Smith, 30, was fatally shot Aug. 13 while responding to a call about a man with a gun. On Nov. 6, Peach County Sgt. Patrick Sondron, 41, and Smallwood, 37, were shot and killed while responding to a call about a dispute between neighbors.
At the request of their supervisor, a few deputies in District 1 stopped by their precinct. Gray and the McDonalds were there waiting with treats.
“If no one else tells you thank you, that is what we want to do,” Gray said. “We want you to know that we appreciate what you do everyday and we appreciate the sacrifices you make.”
Deputy Matthew Walker was among a handful of officers who smiled, hugged the ladies and accepted their “thanks for giving” bags. Walker is 28, the same age as Jones was when he died on the job.
“We wouldn’t be able to do our job unless we had people out there supporting us,” Walker said. “Even though we don’t hear it from everybody, just anytime we’re at the store and somebody asks us to stay safe or somebody tells us, you know, ‘We appreciate what you do.’ That right there is enough to keep us going for a week or more. ... Any support that you guys give us, it means a lot.”