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Public safety officers honored at Chamber's Valor Awards

NORCROSS - Gwinnett's public safety family has had a rough year, Chairman Charles Bannister admitted Friday. Two police officers were shot while serving a warrant, a deputy was killed in her home and a firefighter was killed in a car accident in the past several months.

But during the Chamber of Commerce's annual Valor Awards, leaders acknowledged all the good news of 2007, the acts of courage and heroism that saved lives.

"Every day our courageous public safety personnel are on duty, ready to stand in harm's way for our protection. They deserve more than what they get," Bannister said. "We're most grateful for their dedication today. Their hard work allows us to preserve and expand the quality of life that makes Gwinnett a great place to live, to work, to play and to raise a family."

Gwinnett Police Officer Craig Lake, who was shot during a Jan. 1, 2007, incident, was honored with the Gold Medal of Valor. He choked up as he thanked the training staff for giving him the tools to calmly go to his cruiser to get help after his radio was disabled by a bullet.

The silver award went to Officer Paul Ascenzo, a Gwinnett officer who shot a suspect who was ramming a truck trying to escape from capture.

"People don't realize how traumatic a shooting incident can be," Ascenzo said. "The overwhelming support I've gotten from the county, it's made me speechless."

The bronze award went to Suwanee Sgt. Dwayne Black, who helped apprehend a bank robbery suspect in a car chase.

"That day I didn't feel like I did anything special. I was actually running late when the call came out," Black said, drawing laughter from the audience.

Black wasn't the only officer Friday to shrug off their moments of bravery as part of their jobs.

Also honored were:

n Snellville Police Chief Roy Whitehead, who was named the Public Safety Person of the Year.

n Suwanee's Criminal Investigation Division, honored as Public Safety Unit of the Year for solving all six bank robberies that occurred in the city in 2007.

n Maj. Carl Sims of the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department, who was given the Lifesaving Award for performing CPR and reviving an elderly man who collapsed in the visitation area of the jail.

n Duluth Master Patrol Officer Liz Strickland, who was awarded the Medal of Merit for coordinating the Operation Drive Smart Program at 15 high schools in 2007.