Houston & Peach

Peach deputy remains in critical condition

Feud between neighbors sparked police shooting, sheriff says

Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese explains what happened when two Peach County deputies responded to call Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016.
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Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese explains what happened when two Peach County deputies responded to call Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016.

Peach County sheriff’s deputy Daryl Smallwood remained in critical condition Monday at the Medical Center, Navicent Health, Peach County Coroner Kerry Rooks said.

Smallwood, 39, and Peach County sheriff’s Sgt. Patrick Sondron, 41, were fired upon after responding to a dispute among neighbors on Hardison Road near Byron about 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Sondron, a veteran deputy, husband and father, was pronounced dead Sunday at the Medical Center of Peach County after efforts to revive him failed, Rooks said.

“He was a very nice person. He would give you the shirt off his back,” Rooks said. “He was an asset to the Peach County Sheriff’s Office. It’s just a shame.”

Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese said Sondron had worked for the sheriff’s office for the past 13 years.

“Just a super guy, super deputy,” said Deese, who was close to Sondron. “He drove charter buses on his off days. Loved to travel.

“He and I had a lot in common. We both liked Dodges — cars, trucks, anything Dodge. Every car in his yard is a Dodge except a Ford police car,” Deese said.

Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., issued a statement offering condolences and prayers.

“Officers from the Peach County Sheriff’s Office, and from all of our law enforcement agencies across the region and country, put their lives on the line every day to serve and protect our communities,” Bishop said in the statement. “We should never take for granted the risk taken by our first responders, and we should respect their sacrifices and those of their families.

“My heart goes out to all who have been touched by this tragic event, and I pray for the full recovery of the wounded deputy.”

Smallwood, who had worked for the sheriff’s office for about a year, remains on life support. He previously worked for five years for the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office.

Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock described Smallwood as a “dedicated and knowledgeable officer” in a statement to news outlets. He recalled Smallwood’s “kind and gentle manner.”

Smallwood has a girlfriend and two children from a previous relationship, Deese said.

Flowers, a candle and a card were left at the Peach County Sheriff’s Office overnight. The flag at the Peach County Law Enforcement Center is flying at half-staff.

About 10 miles away, crime scene technicians from the GBI continued to gather evidence on Hardison Road.

The suspected shooter was hospitalized Sunday at the Medical Center with a gunshot wound to the abdomen, Deese said. It was not clear whether the suspect, identified as Ralph Stanley Elrod, remained hospitalized Monday afternoon.

Arrests warrants for charges of murder and aggravated assault on police officers were expected to sworn against the suspected shooter, said J.T. Ricketson, special agent in charge of the GBI in Perry.

About 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Sondron and Smallwood were dispatched to the area of Hardison Road and Ga. 42 about a dispute among neighbors.

The suspect had threatened his neighbor’s two nephews, both thought to be in their 20s, with a rifle, Ricketson said Monday. Their uncle was having a cookout, and a number of people were at the house.

The nephews had been riding up and down Hardison Road and on their uncle’s property in a four-wheeler and on a motorcycle, Ricketson said. The two properties border each other.

“On one of the times when they were doing down the road, our subject came out to the end of his driveway with a rifle and he confronted them, threatened him and so forth,” Ricketson said. “So they went back to their aunt and uncle’s house, told them what happened and they called Peach County 911.

“That’s what started the incident. That’s why two deputies came out here,” Ricketson said.

After talking with the aunt and uncle at their home on Ga. 42, the deputies, who arrived in two separate sheriff’s vehicles, each drove to the suspect’s home at 148 Hardison Road.

“They pulled down his driveway, exited their vehicles and within just a few yards of getting out of their vehicle, the subject — either was already out of the house or came out of the house — and opened up fire on them,” Ricketson said.

The suspect fired on the deputies with a rifle, Ricketson said.

He declined to release the name of the suspect until he was under arrest.

The crime scene, described as the size of a football field, includes Elrod’s front yard and the side of his yard.

“The Byron P.D. officer that responded was able to gain a closer position on the subject, and so there’s evidence on the side of the yard, as well as the front of the yard,” Ricketson said.

Byron police officers returned fire when responding to the officer down call. Houston, Bibb and Jones County deputies also responded to that call.

Dozens of law enforcement officers from neighboring agencies swarmed the neighborhood.

A radio call of shots fired and officers down in Peach County drew dozens of law-enforcement officers from surrounding counties on November 6, 2016. Brittney Biddle posted video on her Facebook page.

There was no indication that the nephews had riden the motorcycle or four-wheeler on the neighbor’s property, Ricketson said.

“These two nephews, on the motorcycle or ATV, as far as we know, did not drive onto our subject’s property. They’re riding right up next to it because the two properties border eachother. But it made the man mad anyway,” Ricketson said. “They also were out on Hardison Road going up and down the road.”

Sondron was among law enforcement officers across Georgia in August who helped load relief donations on tractor-trailers for Louisiana flooding victims. The “Convoy of Care” effort was organized by the Georgia Sheriff’s Association.

An autopsy is expected Monday.

Staff writers Liz Fabian and Joe Kovac contributed to this article. For more on this story, come back later to macon.com and read Tuesday’s Telegraph.

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