Personnel from the Byron Police Department, the Monroe County Emergency Services and the U.S. Marshals Service Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force have been honored for acts of heroism with a 2017 Governor's Public Safety Award.
Byron police officers Wesley Griffis and Michael Welch and former Byron police Sgt. Eric Farris were honored for their response to a Nov. 6, 2016, call for help from dispatchers of two Peach County deputies down. Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr. is charged with murder in the deaths of Sgt. Patrick Sondron and Deputy Daryl Smallwood and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Griffis, who was heading into work early, arrived first at Elrod's home, followed by Farris and Welch. Farris is now with the Houston County Sheriff's Office.
Here's what the officers did to earn the award, based on an excerpt from the award ceremony program. The event was held Thursday at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth.
"Farris radioed that two deputies were down and that they were going to attempt to rescue the deputies. Griffis retrieved a shield from his vehicle and started moving toward the residence along with Farris and Welch. Griffis observed the suspect, wearing heavy body armor and carrying a long gun, as he exited the residence and moved into the garage. The officers came under heavy gunfire from the suspect, who was firing a .223-caliber rifle.
"Griffis returned fire and was able to strike the suspect, causing him to fall behind Sondron's patrol car. The three officers formed a stack as they approached the suspect, whom was taken into custody. Unfortunately, Sgt. Patrick Sondron and Deputy Daryl Smallwood did not survive their wounds that day. However, the actions of these fallen officers saved the lives of other responding officers. Sgt, Eric Farris, Officers Michael Welch, and Wesley Griffis used their training and skills to handle the situation without fear for their own safety."
Monroe County Emergency Services firefighter and paramedic Jesse Suggs and Capt. Eric Tully are credited with saving the lives of three young duck hunters, all teens, rescued from Lake Juliette in Monroe County on Jan. 7.
The shivering teens, including one who was suffering from hypothermia, were clinging to the side of their overturned boat when found by rescuers.
Here's an excerpt from the program:
"Suggs and Capt. Tully made the decision, at great risk to their own safety, to stay beside the vessel and pull and guide the victims to shore. Waves from the windy water drenched both Suggs and Tully in the process. Neither Suggs nor Tully were equipped with any cold water gear, only their department issued uniforms.
"Their brave act of getting the victims to shore quickly instead of waiting for additional manpower, saved the lives of the victims. As a result of their quick thinking, it allowed for faster treatment by nearby EMS, including rapid transport to the hospital. Their actions are a testament to the bravery and commitment of the firefighters and paramedics of Monroe County Emergency Services and the state of Georgia."
Additionally, special agents Daniel Lyle Wilkes and Peter Morris, both assigned to the U.S. Marshals Service Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force based in Macon, were recognized for heroism when trying to serve a search warrant with Pat Carothers, the task force's deputy commander. Carothers was fatally wounded in Nov. 18, 2016, incident in Long County.
"Special Agents Wilkes and Morris were part of the warrant and entry team, each coming under direct fire. Without consideration for their own safety, they advanced the mobile home to help evacuate Carothers and render aid," the program said.