Houston & Peach

One Peach County deputy dead after shooting

A dispute between neighbors led to a shooting Sunday that left one Peach County deputy dead and another seriously wounded.

The shooting happened about 5:30 p.m. west of Byron. One of the deputies was taken to the Medical Center, Navicent Health, in Macon, and the other was rushed to the Medical Center of Peach County.

Peach County Coroner Kerry Rooks said deputy Patrick Sondron, 41, died about 6:40 p.m. at the Peach County hospital.

“He was a very good person,” Rooks said of Sondron, who’d been with the department about 12 years. “He was just a great deputy. He did his job well and was always willing to help.”

The other deputy, Daryl Smallwood, was in critical condition late Sunday night. He’s been with the sheriff’s office about a year after serving with other departments.

J.T. Ricketson, special agent in charge of the GBI office in Perry, said the sheriff’s office contacted him about 6 p.m. requesting assistance with a shooting. He said deputies were responding to “a dispute between neighbors.”

“When they arrived, they were under gunfire,” Ricketson said at the scene. “They returned fire.”

A suspect was taken to the Medical Center, Navicent Health. Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese identified him as Ralph Ellwood. Deese said he sustained one gunshot wound.

“We don’t think it was targeting,” Deese said of the case outside the Macon hospital about 9:40 p.m. “It was a feud between neighbors.”

The deputies, he added, “were out there doing their jobs. There is no such thing as a routine call.”

Deese had arrived at the Medical Center about 8:15 p.m. and went inside immediately.

The shooting happened on Hardison Road at Ga. 42. Deputies had that area of Ga. 42 blocked after the shooting and many law enforcement vehicles were in the area.

Ricketson said several law enforcement agencies responded to the scene, including Byron, Perry, Houston County and Jones County.

Ricketson said the incident started with people who were riding on Hardison Road in a four-wheeler and on a motorcycle. The suspect confronted them with a weapon, but Ricketson declined to say what kind of weapon. Neighbors next door then called 911.

The deputies originally went to the home of the neighbors who called 911, Ricketson said. After they gathered information about what had happened, they pulled their cars to the suspect’s home, got out and came under fire. Ricketson said it took several minutes to secure the scene.

A neighbor reached by phone who lives on Hardison Road about a quarter-mile from the shooting said many shots were fired. He said he first heard sirens, then heard what he is certain was automatic gunfire. That was followed by what sounded like handgun fire. He believes the suspect opened fire on the deputies with an automatic weapon, then they returned fire.

The neighbor, who declined to give his name, walked toward the scene and saw a deputy face down by a car, with other deputies nearby with guns drawn. It appeared to him that they could not tend to the injured deputy because they were still dealing with the shooter. Neighbors were then told by officers to get back in their homes.

The neighbor said the shooting happened on Hardison Road about 200 feet from Ga. 42. He did not know the person who did the shooting.

“This is a quiet little neighborhood,” he said. “This is about the most peaceful place you can find. Nobody here can believe this has happened.”

A video posted to Facebook showed the scene and the man shooting the video said someone pointed an automatic rifle at his friend. He then called 911 and then the man started shooting at the officers when they arrived.

“Look dude, he’s shooting at the police right now,” the man said as he showed police cars in the distance.

Monroe County Sheriff John Cary Bittick, who lost a deputy to a shooting, and Bibb County Sheriff David Davis also arrived at the Medical Center Sunday night, as did Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee.

Telegraph editor Oby Brown, reporter Joe Kovac Jr. and photographer Jason Vorhees contributed to this report.

Wayne Crenshaw: 478-256-9725, @WayneCrenshaw1

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