Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Various award recipients gather on stage during the Gwinnett Chamber Valor Public Safety Awards at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth on Tuesday. Gwinnett County Police Officer Rhonda Wood, right, Sergeant Joseph McMenomy, right back, and Officer Phillip McMillan, not pictured, received the gold Medal of Valor award. The Medal of Valor award is given to recipients who expose themselves to great personal risk and demonstrate extraordinary judgment and performance of their duties.
DULUTH -- At the time, officials called it mayhem.
An armed bank robber led a wild lunchtime chase around unincorporated Duluth in September. He pin-balled a getaway car into vehicles and then carjacked a Dodge Charger at gunpoint, which he crashed into several more vehicles, reaching more than 70 mph on surface streets before exiting the car in a parking lot and opening fire on Gwinnett police.
The three Gwinnett police officers who returned fire, striking the suspect several times and ending the public threat, were hailed Tuesday as heroes. The suspect later died at a hospital. No officers were harmed.
Gwinnett police Sgt. Joseph McMenomy and officers Phillip McMillan and Rhonda Wood won the gold Medal of Valor, the county's highest award for bravery and heroism, at the Gwinnett Chamber's Valor Awards.
The annual awards luncheon pays tribute to Gwinnett's public safety officials, showcasing stories of valor and altruism. Leaders received a record number of nominations this year. Most awards went to Gwinnett police, the county's largest policing agency.
Like many recipients, honored in a Gwinnett Center ballroom teaming with county dignitaries and public safety brass, McMenomy deflected praise.
"Everybody in this room who does our job would have done what we did," McMenomy said. "It's not something we want to do. Unfortunately that day, it had to happen like that."
Other notable honors:
• The Medal of Merit, awarded to an outstanding public safety program, went to Officer Eugene Hollis of the Gwinnett County Department of Corrections. Hollis has volunteered more than 300 hours for a prison awareness program meant to intimidate kids who've had brushes with the law. More than 300 youngsters last year participated in the program, which Hollis has led since 2008.
"I give these kids all I got, because I know they're our future," Hollis said.
• The Lifesaving Award went to Gwinnett police Officer Ryan Dunlap, credited with helping save a man's life in November who was injured by a fallen tree near Duluth.
• Communications Person of the Year went to Gwinnett police Communications Officer Olivia Brooke Kalinowski, who successfully handled a home-invasion call on a stormy night in May that became a SWAT call-out. It was her first day on the job.
• Public Safety Unit of the Year went to a team on the day-watch shift at Gwinnett 911 Communications, who coordinated myriad calls related to the bank robbery and chase in September.
• Retired Assistant Fire Department Chief David Dusik, who represented the department in various capacities for 20 years and has been integral to the Valor Awards program, was honored with a new award for public safety leadership.
• The bronze and silver Medal of Valor awards also went to Gwinnett police personnel.