About 1,500 people filled Southside Baptist Church on Thursday to celebrate the life of slain Peach County sheriff’s Sgt. Patrick Sondron.
Sondron, 41, and fellow Peach County Deputy Daryl Smallwood, 39, were gunned down Sunday while answering a call about a dispute among neighbors on Hardison Road near Byron.
Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese remembered Sondron as “probably one of the smartest men I’ve ever known.”
Sondron was always thinking of ways to do things better, Deese said. He and Sondron had a connection over Mopar vehicles. Sondron talked Deese into buying his first Dodge truck.
Sondron, who loved to drive buses, also persuaded Deese to buy a bus for the sheriff’s office.
The bus is used for community service, including taking children and deployed military personnel down to Lake Blackshear for a train trip. The Georgia State Patrol provides an escort.
“The kids really eat that up,” Deese said.
Sondron was also a pilot, but wasn’t successful in getting Deese to buy a helicopter for the sheriff’s office through a military surplus program.
Deese recounted, “I’m like, ‘Patrick, it’s only 10 miles from one end of the county to the other.’ He’d say, ‘Yeah, boss, but don’t you know how good it would look for them seeing you get behind that helicopter.’ ’’
The story brought laughter from those assembled.
Sondron’s last push for vehicles was for the Dodge Charger, which Deese said he may now have to consider purchasing as new sheriff’s vehicles.
Sondron was the sheriff’s “go-to guy.” He was on the SWAT team and served as the agency’s training instructor to help deputies meet state certification requirements.
“He’s just always been real involved, and we’re going to miss him every single day of the week,” Deese said.
Peach County sheriff’s Chaplain Brian Stewart noted that Sondron stood in the gap between good and evil.
“That’s what we have right here, a man who did that,” Stewart said. “That’s what we have right here, a room full of law enforcement officers.”
Stewart shared stories he’d heard about Sondron over the past few days, including how Sondron came to the aid of a neighbor when her child wasn’t breathing and performed CPR.
Another time, Sondron went into a convenience store to buy something and learned that the pregnant clerk was sick and not feeling well. Sondron left and returned with some soup for the clerk.
Stewart also shared a story about a wreck on Interstate 75 that he and Sondron worked last summer.
“This elderly couple that were injured and transported to the hospital, they had a dog with them, and Patrick went the extra mile and took that dog home with him until this couple could pick it up,” Stewart said.
Tim Sizemore, a Macon pastor and a former police officer, had worked with Sondron when both were employed by the Byron Police Department.
“He (Sondron) talked about Melissa and the kids more than Mopar and buses,” Sizemore said. “But he did love buses.
“We would be working interstate at night and he had to tell me about every bus that came by. He wanted to tell me about what kind of motor it had, what it would do, and what was good about it and what wasn’t good about. I just never had the heart to tell him, I really didn’t care unless it had a load of dope in it,” Sizemore said to the laughter of those assembled.
Sondron was good at a lot of things, his friend said.
“But he was best at identifying a person or an animal in need and being exactly what that need needed,” Sizemore said.
Sizemore said the two most memorable police chases he’d ever been in were both with Sondron.
“We chased two armed robbers one time from Byron ... about 3 o’clock in the morning. We chased them all over Houston County, I think, into almost Macon County. It was one of Patrick’s first chases, and he got broke in right that night. With the help of GSP and Houston County, we caught ‘em.
“We chased another robber the opposite direction into Bibb County right into a mass of Bibb County deputies that happened to be working an armed bank robbery that had just occurred. The suspect didn’t know that. He got off on that exit, right next to the bank. With the help of a Bibb County deputy and a really sturdy pecan tree, we caught him, too,” Sizemore said.
Sondron cared about people. Even someone Sondron had locked up several times talked about how nice of a guy he was, Sizemore said.
“Listen, it’s a feat to arrest the same person four or five times and they talk about how nice you are,” Sizemore said. “The last time I arrested a guy three different times, he tried to take a hit out on me. That’s a true story.”
Earlier, Sizemore read a tribute written by Sondron’s wife, Melissa. She described him as her best friend, a true hero and an awesome father. One of his sons, Ethan, also wrote a tribute in which he described his father as the “greatest man I ever knew.”
Also, letters expressing condolences and attributing honor to Sondron were read aloud on behalf of Gov. Nathan Deal and U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga.
“Sgt. Sondron’s sacrifice renders a debt that can never be repaid,” Deal said. “However, this state will always honor his legacy and commitment to peace in the pursuit of duty.
“We share in your sorrow and we continue to keep you in our thoughts and prayers.”
After the funeral, more than 300 cars, mostly patrol cars from agencies across the state, followed behind a stream of police motorcycles to Magnolia Park Cemetery.
As the blue lights passed beneath an arch of crossed ladders from the Peach County Fire Department and the Perry Fire Department, hats came off and hands covered hearts.
From the sidewalk outside a gas station, 69-year-old Amalia Beaver watched, clutching her American flag as she held it high.
“I stand for the policeman and for this country,” said Beaver, who moved to Warner Robins from Puerto Rico in 1982. “In this situation, we don’t have to pray for (Sondron). We know where he is. We have to pray for his family because now the family’s the one who has to deal.”
Fay Ray and Roslyn Brookins, both in their 70s, also watched the procession.
Ray said she heard the sirens wail for more than 20 minutes that Sunday night from her house in Byron.
Brookins said her daughter works at the Peach County Sheriff’s Office and knew Sondron well.
“You know, Patrick had been there for almost 13 years. Everybody in the area knew Patrick,” Brookins said. “He was just a unique person. He was always trying to help.”
Staff writer Laura Corley contributed to this report.