GBI Agent gives update on Peach County deputies shootings
More details emerged Monday in the killing of a Peach County deputy and the critical wounding of another.
Video from the suspect’s home surveillance system and from police dash cams show that one of the deputies was apparently about to take the suspect into custody. The suspect then pulled out a handgun hidden in his waistband and then shot both deputies, said GBI Special Agent in Charge J.T. Ricketson.
Peach County sheriff’s deputy Daryl Smallwood, 39, remained in critical condition Monday at the Medical Center, Navicent Health, authorities said.
Smallwood 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.
When Byron police officers responded to the dispatch call of officers down, the suspect emerged from his garage with a bulletproof vest on and fired at the officers, Ricketson said.
The suspect, identified as Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr., remained hospitalized Monday afternoon with a gunshot wound to the abdomen, according to Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese.
Arrests warrants for charges of murder and aggravated assault on police officers were served on Elrod in the hospital, Ricketson said.
Elrod, formerly of Macon, is a licensed electrical contractor, public records show. He moved to Byron area in 2012. His son is a Jones County sheriff’s deputy, Ricketson said.
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.
Elrod 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 going 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.”
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.
The videos revealed that the deputies had driven up the suspect’s driveway, gotten out of their vehicles and had started talking with the suspect.
They had a conversation that looked like it lasted maybe 5 to 15 seconds. At some point, Sondron reached out to him like he’s going to take Elrod into custody, Ricketson said.
“(Elrod) backs up, draws a handgun that he had hidden in his waistband, fires multiple rounds and struck both the deputies,” Ricketson said. “Basically, he unloaded his handgun into the two deputies.”
Elrod then went back into his residence. He came back out for a brief moment. Both the deputies are on the ground.
“They’re not moving,” Ricketson said. “Then, (Elrod) kinda goes back around his residence and basically waits until the other responding officers arrive.”
This time, instead of coming out the front door, (Elrod) came outside his garage, Ricketson said.
“He’s now armed himself with a rifle and he’s put on a bullet proof vest,” Ricketson said.
Multiple agencies within a 15-20 mile radius responded. Three Byron police officers arrived on scene first. One pulled his police cruiser into the roadway, one into the front yard and the third in the driveway.
“(Elrod) started engaging them,” Ricketson said.
Two of the officers took cover by their vehicles. They were not able to get a view of the suspect, and they did not return fire, he said.
The other Byron police officer grabbed his ballistic shield from his vehicle and got behind it and started advancing to the suspect as he was firing rounds, Ricketson.
“He got into a position where he was actually able to get a good view of this suspect. He fired multiple rounds and at least one round struck this guy in the abdomen,” Ricketson said.
Meanwhile, more officers arrived on the scene.
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.
There was no indication that the nephews had ridden 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 each other. But it made the man mad anyway,” Ricketson said. “They also were out on Hardison Road going up and down the road.”
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. An autopsy Monday found that he was struck by a single gunshot to the head and neck, Rooks said.
“He was a very nice person,” Rooks said. “He would give you the shirt off his back.”
“He was an asset to the Peach County Sheriff’s Office. It’s just a shame,” Rooks said.
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 for Sondron and prayers for his Smallwood’s recovery.
“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 released to news media. 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 crime scene was expected to be guarded overnight by Houston County deputies and remain a crime scene through Wednesday, Ricketson said.
Staff writer Liz Fabian and Joe Kovac contributed to this article.