Local heroes receive awards

NORCROSS - Last April when a car crashed into a tractor-trailer, pinning the driver in his burning car, Bobby Johnson, a Duluth police officer, was called to the man's rescue.

Johnson said he comforted and tried to rescue the man before the car was completely covered with flames.

"I can remember him screaming to me, 'Help me, help me,'" Johnson said.

The driver was eventually freed from the car by firefighters, but Johnson stayed with him, riding with the man to Grady Memorial Hospital and remaining there until the man died.

Johnson was honored Friday for his heroism that day as were 16 other police officers and firefighters at the second annual Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce Valor Awards luncheon at the Hilton Atlanta Northeast in Norcross.

Johnson received the bronze medal of valor for his continued heroism and work with the HEAT Unit for the Duluth Police Department.

About 400 police officers, firefighters, Gwinnett business leaders and family members gathered in the hotel's ballroom to show support for the men and women who save lives and prevent crime. All the firefighters and officers recognized received plaques and bars to add to their uniforms.

The keynote speaker for the ceremony, U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias, began the 11:30 a.m. ceremony by thanking those who attended.

"We're here to recognize public safety professionals for their hard work and thank their family members," Nahmias said. "It's the family members that let their sons, daughters, husbands, wives go out the door each morning and forgive them for missing breakfasts and dinners to keep others safe."

Gwinnett County Firefighter Jason Simms was given the lifesaving award for his work, overcoming his own injuries to save a 3-year-old girl from a mangled vehicle after his ambulance and the vehicle the child was riding in collided.

Public safety person of the year was awarded to Snellville police Officer Greg Perry for his help in the arrest of the suspects wanted in a Lilburn pawn shop robbery.

Lt. Bill Stevens of the Duluth Police Department accepted the medal of merit for those who participated in and his work as CEO with Operation One Voice - an organization dedicated to raising money to grant four-year college scholarships for children whose parents died working for special operations forces.

"I'm thrilled I was given this award and all the guys who were recognized for their participation in (Operation One Voice)," Stevens said. "But personally, my reward is doing something for these children. It's not about us."

A team of nine with the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department's fugitive unit was awarded public safety unit of the year for work in 2006, seizing nearly $6 million in illegal money, 9,000 pounds of marijuana and 125 kilos of cocaine.

"You don't really expect to get recognized like this, but it's really appreciated," said Lt. Ray Pelis. "We know we make a difference, but an award like this makes it all worthwhile."

Gwinnett police Officer J.P. Saverance received the silver medal of valor for his work stopping an armed fugitive on Interstate 85 last year.

Lilburn police Lt. Mike Johnson, Officer Ryan Gill, Officer Gabe Springer and Sgt. Steve Castor received the gold medal of valor for their work in the arrest of three men at the scene of a Lilburn bank robbery in November.

"This award proves when teamwork comes together it can be a great thing," Johnson said.