Snellville officers receive first Valor Award

DULUTH - A trio of Snellville police officers who put their lives in danger when they attempted to stop a mentally unstable driver were the first recipients of the Gwinnett County Valor Award for displaying bravery and heroism in the line of duty.

Officers Kevin Sebring, Bruce Sherman and Gregory Perry were honored with a plaque and a $150 gift basket for their selfless act at the awards ceremony for public safety workers Friday at Gwinnett Place Marriott. Many county officials said the awards ceremony was a long overdue thank you to the law enforcement and public safety community.

"We take one day out of 365 to say once again thank you personally and collectively to those we honor here today," said Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister. "I don't know why someone hasn't thought of this before, but now they did and we're glad."

The officers responded to a call of a suspected drunk driver on April 13 who was traveling into Snellville on Ga. Highway 124. Sebring encountered the car first and attempted to pull the driver over.

However, Sebring was forced to discontinue the chase at U.S. Highway 78 for public safety reasons when the driver sped up to elude police. The driver was spotted again by Sherman a short distance down Ga. 124. The two officers boxed the driver in and he came to a stop, Perry said.

When Sebring got out of his patrol car, the driver gunned his engine, sped forward and struck Sebring in the leg. Sherman fired a gunshot and struck the driver in the arm. However, the driver was able to escape the roadblock to continue traveling up the road.

Minutes later, Perry and Sherman caught up to the driver again. The motorist rammed Perry's vehicle, and Perry in turn steered his patrol car into the suspect's vehicle, knocking it into the curb and disabling it.

After they got the driver out of the car, Perry and Sherman administered first aid until paramedics could arrive to transport him to the hospital. The driver later admitted he was mentally unstable and he was off his medication, Perry said. He has since pleaded guilty to several felony charges.

With the humility characteristic of public safety workers, Perry shrugged off praise on Friday.

"I was just doing what I was supposed to be doing," Perry said. "I try to do the best I can and help two other officers that needed help."

The Valor Award is the highest award for bravery for public safety workers who knowingly place their lives in peril while saving or attempting to save the lives of others. The silver medal went to Sgt. Doug Mattox, Sgt. Jerry Stancil and Lt. Kevin Moran of the Gwinnett County Police Department for their role in preventing a suicide attempt. The bronze medal was awarded to Dept. Sheriff Matt Warren for arresting six burglary suspects.

Other awards presented on Friday included the Public Safety Unit of the Year, which went to the Special Investigations Section for the exemplary efforts of the Gwinnett County Multi-Agency Drug Task Force. Drug arrests were up 12 percent from 2004 to 2005, and narcotic seizures increased a whopping 257 percent thanks to their work, officials said.

Lt. Bill Stevens of the Duluth Police Department received the award for Public Safety Person of the Year for his work with Operation One Voice, a nonprofit agency which raises money for the families of fallen soldiers.

Cpl. Kim Carroll and deputies Bob Patterson and Nakia Brooks of the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department received the Lifesaving Award for resuscitating a man who went into cardiac arrest in the clerk's office of the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center.

The Medal of Merit went to Bill Richardson of the Gwinnett County Solicitor's Office for his program "It Won't Happen to Me" helping to educate teens on driver safety.