Somber tone at Macon Regional Crimestoppers annual luncheon

Here's what happened when 2 Peach County deputies were shot

GBI Agent J.T. Ricketson speaks about Peach County deputies shot on Hardison Road outside of Byron.
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GBI Agent J.T. Ricketson speaks about Peach County deputies shot on Hardison Road outside of Byron.

The past year’s successes for Middle Georgia law enforcement are usually celebrated during the annual Macon Regional Crimestoppers luncheon. This year, though, the tone of the gathering was more solemn.

On the night before Monday’s 15th annual luncheon, two Peach County sheriff’s deputies were shot. Sgt. Patrick Sondron, 41, was killed, and deputy Daryl Smallwood was critically injured.

The tragedy was evident on the faces of hundreds of law enforcement officers gathered in the Wilson Convention Centre.

“Normally, this event is an upbeat event for us,” said Warren Selby Jr., chairman of the Macon Regional Crimestoppers board of directors. “It’s a celebration of our year’s success, (and) we want to keep it a little bit that way. So, if you sense that we’re a little more somber, a little more quiet today, it was a tough night for us last night.”

Macon Regional Crimestoppers offers cash rewards up to $1,000 to anonymous tipsters with information that leads to the arrests of those responsible for crimes in Bibb, Jones, Monroe, Houston, Peach, Twiggs, Baldwin and Crawford.

Through September of this year, 189 arrests had been made, and tipsters had been paid $34,297.

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

Altogether, Macon Regional Crimestoppers raised $118,150 this year, an amount presented on a giant check from Rotary Clubs of Macon. Last year, the nonprofit raised $129,850, the most it’s ever raised in a single year.

Since its inception in 2000, Macon Regional Crimestoppers has helped with 4,918 arrests, paid $731,469 in rewards and helped recover $767,844.

In a short film during the luncheon, the names and faces of law enforcement officers who’d been killed in the line of duty since last year appeared on a big screen.

Two of them were working in Middle Georgia.

Bibb County Investigator TJ Freeman was killed during a car crash May 5 while pursuing a suspect. On Aug. 13, Eastman Police Officer Tim Smith was fatally shot while he was answering a call about a man with a gun.

“This has not been a good year for law enforcement in this country,” Bibb County Sheriff David Davis said. “We’re going through a lot of changes in the way law enforcement does things and the way that we work with our communities that we serve.”

In 2014, Monroe County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Norris was fatally shot while responding to a call about a suicidal person.

As Peach County law enforcement grieves the loss of one of its own, Davis said, “show them the love, solidarity and commitment going forward.”

Laura Corley: 478-744-4334, @Lauraecor