The Gwinnett County wrestling community and beyond is mourning the loss of Hall of Fame coach Cliff Ramos, who died last week after battling pancreatic cancer.
These are the top stories from the past week.
Legendary, beloved Gwinnett wrestling coach Cliff Ramos dies after long cancer battle
To the end, Cliff Ramos fought hard against his pancreatic cancer.
The Gwinnett Sports Hall of Fame and National Wrestling Hall of Fame member spent the past six months in hospice, but refused to give in and stayed active until the past few weeks, when his condition worsened and he was sedated by his medical caregivers. Ramos passed away Thursday evening after battling cancer since his 2018 diagnosis. He was 67.
“Let me tell you about this nut,” said Jim Tiller, a close friend and longtime assistant of Ramos. “I’d go see him once a week. He would love for me to drive him to a park, a lot times we went to Harbins Park. We would go walk 20, 25 minutes. He was amazing. He’s on hospice and he’s out exercising. If you know Cliff, that’s not unusual.”
Tiller, the rest of Gwinnett’s wrestling community and beyond were in mourning Thursday as news traveled about Ramos’ death. His head coaching career included memorable stops at Meadowcreek and Collins Hill, along with later roles at Greater Atlanta Christian and Mountain View after he stepped away from head coaching.
Ramos had no shortage of friends he met through the sport, through the Gwinnett County Public Schools system where he worked for more than 30 years, through his church or through his frequent philanthropy for those in need.
“Everybody knows him as a great wrestling coach, I know what a great man he was,” said his longtime friend and fellow wrestling coach Steve West, fighting through tears. “I know how much he cared about his family and his wrestlers. He’d give the shirt off his back for his wrestlers and other people as well. All the work he did for the community when (the Ramos family) lived in Lawrenceville, donating his time and raising money for the (Lawrenceville) Co-Op. He did that because he loved people.”
West met Ramos in 1981 and two traveled the country by car during summers with the mission of doing good deeds and helping those in need. Ramos wrote a book about their adventures called “Backroads, No Plan, Good Deeds & Pee Wee” — Pee Wee was his nickname for West. Profits from the eBook went to the Lawrenceville Co-Op.
The care he showed to his community was matched by what he did for his wrestlers on and off the mat, those close to him said.
“I’ve been blessed to have Coach Cliff Ramos and his entire family in my life,” said Alex Paucar, a 1992 state champion wrestler for Ramos at Meadowcreek. “I only wrestled for him a short time, but most importantly he has been there for me, in my corner, ever since. Good times and bad, successful life events and setbacks.
“His support and advice did not have a time limit or expiration date, it always ran into overtime. And I’m forever grateful that he cared enough to coach and love me, and help mold me into the man I am today. When people say, ‘A coach of a lifetime,’ he completely embodies that statement. I’m one of his ‘idiots’ as he would affectionately call many of his wrestlers. God bless him and his entire family. We can’t thank the Ramos family enough for sharing him with us and so many others.”
Ramos also guided his teams and athletes to great heights, most notably at Collins Hill, and he sported a 626-80 record in dual meets. He led his Collins Hill teams to nine team state championships and had 34 individual state champions.
“Coach Ramos was as fine a coach as I ever had in any sport,” said current Mountain View coach Derek Tiller, one of Ramos’ state champions at Collins Hill. “But he was so much more to me than a coach. He was a second father to both myself and my brother Gary. So much of what I learned about how to become a man, husband, father and coach I attribute to Coach Ramos. I can’t thank him enough for the impact he had on my life.”
Not surprisingly, the Collins Hill wrestling facility is named in his honor.
“Coach Ramos was truly one of a kind,” said Mountain View head wrestling coach Jim Gassman, who wrestled for and coached with Ramos. “It would be difficult to find anyone with a servant heart for student-athletes and others such as Coach Ramos. Through my nearly 30 years of being either his wrestler and or coaching assistant with him, there are too many stories to share of how he stepped in to help someone that many would pass by. He helped shape so many students’ lives and people’s lives, his legacy will last for generations to come. We are very sad to lose such a fun-loving and caring person as Coach Ramos.”
While at Collins Hill, Ramos built a wrestling program that made its mark on the national level. In a six-year span, the Eagles were ranked nationally five times, a rarity at the time for a Georgia program.
“He set the standard,” Jim Tiller said of Ramos. “He set the standard for county wrestling, not just for the county, but for the state. He took our program to another level by taking us out all over the country to wrestle and truly be a national program. … We’ve been great friends. Our families have grown up together. The Ramoses consider us part of their family and we consider the Ramoses part of our family. He was a Godly man. He was truly concerned with the individual. He cared about kids.”
Throughout his coaching career, Ramos built close bonds in the coaching community and with his wrestlers. He stayed in contact from athletes throughout his more than 40 years in education and coaching, dating back to his first job in Butler, Missouri in 1976.
He first made his mark in Gwinnett at Meadowcreek before launching the Collins Hill program to greatness. His first coaching job in Georgia was at East Hall in the early 1980s.
“Coach Ramos, words cannot explain the impact coach has had on my life, and so many others’ lives,” said Mike Bowbliss, who wrestled for Ramos at Meadowcreek and later coached for him. “He was an amazing husband, father, coach, mentor and friend. I have been lucky to have thousands of moments with him and his family. That might be his greatest gift of all, when I think of his impact he had on my life, it was that he welcomed me as a 160 (pound) freshman and so many others like me into his life, like we were family.”
Ramos, despite his cancer, stayed active. Jim Tiller and Ramos often spent the winter weekends at high school wrestling tournaments. When his health allowed, he was in the stands chatting up his friends. When his immune system was struggling, he had a seat off to the side or atop the bleachers to take in the action. He even stopped by Collins Hill earlier this football season for the Corky Kell Classic game versus Carrollton.
When Ramos got sick in early March, doctors discovered his cancer had returned. He went directly into hospice care, Jim Tiller said, and Tiller visited weekly. West stopped by once or twice a week. As Ramos’ health declined, West visited five times in the past eight days, not knowing when the final goodbye would come.
“My wife said just a couple of minutes ago to be thankful for all the good memories you had,” West said Thursday night. “I know (Ramos’ wife) Kathy just asked me, ‘Don’t forget him.’ Which is impossible. … I saw him yesterday morning. He had been unresponsive the last couple of days. I just gave him a kiss on the forehead and told him I loved him. I’m just thankful he’s no longer in pain. That’s a long time with pancreatic cancer.”
Ramos is survived by his wife Kathy, children Taylor, Trevor and Kara and five grandchildren. Memorial service arrangements are pending.
Gwinnett setting daily records for early voting in first week
Early voting for the Nov. 3 general election has been record-breaking for Gwinnett County.
The county has been setting “same day” records, i.e. Day One versus Day One, Day Two versus Day Two and so on. On Friday alone, more than 12,000 Gwinnett voters cast early voting, also known as advance-in-person, ballots.
“Every day this week, Day One, Day Two, Day Three has been a record compared to Day On, Day Two, Day Three of the others,” county spokesman Joe Sorenson said. “I don’t know if we’ll keep that up or not.”
As of the end of Friday, a total of 49,505 Gwinnett voters had cast ballots in person during the first five days of early voting for this year’s general election.
A big part of why each day of early voting this year has set same day records for voter turnout is that this year marked the first time that Gwinnett has opened all of its satellite early voting sites for all three weeks of the early voting period.
This year also saw the county opening more early voting sites, nine in all, than ever before.
During the first week of early voting ahead of the 2016 general election — when Gwinnett made national headlines for long early voting waits — there was only one early voting location open. It was the same story during the first week of early voting for the 2018 general election.
But this year is also unique in that the COVID-19 pandemic is driving higher absentee-by-mail participation. As a result, county officials are having a hard time predicting what will happen with in-person versus mail-in voting with this election.
“All bets are off in 2020 as far as trying to predict based on patterns of other elections,” Sorenson said.
On Monday, early voting began with 8,703 ballots cast on Day One, when there were reports of lines that lasted up to eight hours at voting sites in the county.
By comparison, Day One of early voting for the 2016 general election saw 1,490 voters cast ballots while Day One of early voting the 2018 general election saw 2,471 ballots cast.
On Tuesday, there were 7,955 ballots cast, compared to 1,584 ballots cast on Day Two of 2016 general election early voting and 4,746 on the same day of the 2018 general election early voting period.
On Wednesday, there were 8,593 ballots cast. There were 1,844 ballots cast on Day Three of 2016 general election early voting and 7,136 on the same day of the 2018 general election early voting period.
On Thursday, 11,612 people cast ballots through early voting. There were 2,036 ballots cast on Day Four of 2016 general election early voting and 9,363 on the same day of the 2018 general election early voting period.
On Friday, 12,723 ballots were cast through early voting in Gwinnett. By comparison, There were 2,024 ballots cast on Day Five of 2016 general election early voting and 11,896 on the same day of the 2018 general election early voting period.
As the daily totals have increased this week, however, the wait times have actually gotten shorter. Around 4 p.m. on Friday, for example, the longest wait was an hour and 30 minutes. On Monday, at that time of day, the wait was several hours longer.
In addition to sheer volume of voters — who have to be socially distanced in line because of the pandemic — issues seen earlier in the week had stemmed from problems with the check-in process, including the system running slow and kicking some operators out. State officials worked on the system and Gwinnett added two check-in and issuing stations and five voting stations at the early voting site located at the county’s elections headquarters.
“Every day has been better than Monday, but Tuesday wasn’t a whole lot better,” Sorenson said. “Wednesday was a little bit better and (Thursday) was our first day that felt very smooth. The state had done a reboot of their system and I think had done some work on it. I think that really helped out a lot.”
But, while this week’s numbers are same day turnout records, they are not actually the highest numbers ever seen during early voting. They are dwarfed by some of the numbers seen during later parts of early voting for the 2018 general election.
An incomplete report from that election’s early voting period shows there were 49,840 ballots cast on a single day in the middle of the second week of early voting.
One thing the reports from previous elections does show, however, is that the daily voting total more or less increase each day of early voting so Gwinnett County could still set a new record this month for highest-ever single-day turnout for any day of early voting.
At the same time, Gwinnett is issuing record numbers of absentee-by-mail ballots this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. By Friday morning, county officials had processed and issued 157,484 absentee-by-mail ballots.
“It could go up,” Sorenson said of the daily early voting totals. “It’s hard to tell because we’ve issued so many absentee-by-mail ballots. The question is will we still have the patterns we’ve had with prior elections, or what are we going to see?
“Are we going to see lighter day of, or are we going to see a continued push on advance-in-person and then a heavy day of and we won’t get our absentee-by-mail back — people will be surrendering (or canceling) them? We are encouraging people to, if they’ve gotten their ballot, they have their absentee-by-mail ballot, to vote that because it will make everything else more efficient as far as voting goes.”
Gwinnett County Public Schools parents will soon get the chance to opt for in-person or digital learning for the spring semester
Gwinnett County Public Schools parents will soon get a chance to decide whether their children will do digital learning or in-person learning for the spring semester.
The school system is planning to offer parents an opportunity to make that choice from Oct. 28 to Nov. 15. It’s a continuation of the options offered for this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused more than 50% of GCPS families to opt for digital learning for the current semester.
“We’re starting to send that information out,” Gwinnett County Public Schools Associate Superintendent for School improvement and Operations Steve Flynt told the Gwinnett County Board of Education on Thursday.
“We’re going to be marketing (the option) in a number of areas, but I’m going to tell you probably the most important is going to be our parent portal.”
The fact that Gwinnett County will extend the digital versus in-person option to the spring semester means some students could end up spending the entire 2020-2021 school year learning from home.
Flynt said the district is seeing the choice for a spring semester as an opportunity to encourage more parents to use the parent portal system.
In addition to making a decision about the spring semester, parents can also use the portal to monitor other information about their children, including their grades.
“We’re going to start by marketing that, making sure people know how to get their (parent portal) account and how to get their information for their students,” Flynt said.
In addition to using the parent portal to notify parents about the options for the spring semester, the district also plans to use several other methods to distribute information about making that choice.
Those methods include the school system’s website, school messenger system, GCPS TV, social media, news releases and flyers.
“We’ll get a lot of information (out) on this,” Flynt said.
The expectation is that parents will be making one decision for the entire semester, rather than making piecemeal options for the first part versus later parts of the semester as well.
“They’ve had an opportunity to find out what works best for them,” Flynt said.
DeJuan Horne, former South Gwinnett basketball player, dies in Alabama car accident
DeJuan Horne, a former basketball standout at South Gwinnett, died of his injuries from an automobile accident Sunday afternoon in Alabama.
The Anniston Star provided details of the one-car accident, which occurred on Interstate 20/59 near mile marker 152. The report stated Horne’s car was headed westbound when it left the road and collided with a metal guard rail at 1:15 p.m. He was transported to the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham, where he was later pronounced dead. The cause of the accident is still under investigation, according to the Star.
Horne, a 6-foot-2 guard, spent a season at Combine Prep Academy (N.C.) after his career at South Gwinnett, and played last season as a freshman at Dodge County Community College (Kans.), where he averaged 6.4 points. After a coaching change at Dodge County, he was given his release and signed with Lawson State Community College (Ala.) for his sophomore season, according to his social media accounts.
“We lost another great Comet,” South Gwinnett’s athletic department wrote on Twitter on Monday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Horne family. Our Comet family is heartbroken. We will miss DeJuan Horne.”
GCPS names principals for Rosebud and Stripling elementary schools; district-wide administrators also appointed
Two elementary schools in Gwinnett County have new leaders and two other officials have been picked to fill district-wide administrative officials.
The Gwinnett County Board of Education approved the appointments of Brittany Riddick and Molly McAuliffe as the principals of Rosebud and Stripling elementary schools, respectively, on Thursday. Riddick is coming to Rosebud after a stint as an assistant principal at Shiloh Elementary School. McAuliffe is coming to Stripling off a stint as an assistant principal at Harris Elementary School.
Meanwhile, Clay Hunter, who has been serving as the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instructional support, has been picked to serve as the interim associate superintendent of curriculum and instructional support. He replaces Jonathan Patterson, who recently left the district to become the superintendent of Fayette County schools.
The fourth appointment was Jenkins Elementary School Principal Michele Smith to be Gwinnett County Public Schools’ new executive director of internal resolution and compliance/Title IX coordinator.
Riddick has been with GCPS since 2016, when she came to Shiloh Elementary School. Prior to that, she worked in Clayton County Public Schools from 2004 until 2011 and a teacher in Atlanta Public Schools from 2011 until 2013 and an APS instructional coach from 2013 until she came to GCPS. She holds a bachelor’s degree in middle grades math and science education from Western Michigan University; a master’s degree in curriculum, instruction and assessment and a specialist’s degree in educational technology from Walden University; and an educational leadership certificate from the University of West Georgia.
McAuliffe has been with GCPS since 2003, when she was hired as a teacher at Parkview High School. She served in that role until 2008 and then served as an internship coordinator and instruction lead for partnership program at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology from 2009 until 2014. She was an assistant principal at Peachtree Ridge High School from 2014 until 2017 and then named an assistant principal at Harris Elementary in 2017. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Virginia Tech University, a master’s degree in social science education from the University of Georgia and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Georgia.
Smith has spent her entire career in GCPS. She was at Cedar Hill Elementary School from 2001 until 2006 and Dacula Middle School from 2006 until 2010. She then became an administrative intern at Jenkins Elementary School from 2010 until 2011 and then served as an assistant principal at that school from 2011 until 2013, as principal at Suwanee Elementary School from 2013 until 2015, when she came back to Jenkins Elementary as its principal. She has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Western Michigan University, a master’s degree in social work from Wayne State University, a certificate in middle grades education from Brenau University, a certificate in education leadership from the University of Georgia and a specialist degree and a doctorate in educational leadership from Argosy University.
And, Hunter has been with GCPS for most of the last 20 years. He was a social studies teacher at Norcross High School from 2000 until 2002; an assistant principal at Meadowcreek High School from 2002 until 2005; an assistant principal at McConnel Middle School from 2005 until 2006; principal at Stripling Elementary from 2006 until 2008; principal at South Gwinnett High School from 2008 until 2012; assistant superintendent of school improvement and operations from 2014 until 2018; and assistant superintendent of curriculum and instructional support from November 2018 until Thursday night. He served as the regional K-12 executive director of schools for Atlanta Public Schools from 2012 until 2013 and the deputy chief of schools for Chicago Public Schools in Illinois from 2013 until 2014. Prior to teaching in Gwinnett, he was a teacher at Milton High School in Fulton County Schools from 1995 until 2000.
He was also an adjunct professor at Clark Atlanta University from 2017 until 2018 and an adjunct professor at Thomas University and the University of Georgia in 2018. Hunter has a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Morehouse College, a master’s degree in social science education from the University of Georgia and a doctorate in educational leadership from Clark Atlanta University.
Gwinnett County Public Schools sees higher ACT composite scores at many high schools
Twelve out of 21 Gwinnett County high schools who had ACT composite scores for the last two years saw their mean scores rise during the 2019-2020 school year, district officials have announced.
Gwinnett has 24 high schools, but only 21 of them posted mean composite scores during both the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years. The others include Phoenix High School, which posted no composite score for either year, and two new schools: the Paul Duke STEM High School, which posted its first composite score last year, and the McClure Health Science High School.
"ACT participation was down in Gwinnett and the nation due to the cancellation of tests in April, June and July 2020 related to COVID-19," school system officials said. "In Gwinnett, 3,996 students participated in the ACT, down from 4,557 students in the Class of 2019."
The ACT is a test used by many colleges in admissions decisions and it used to assess their education level as well as how likely it is that they will be able to do college-level work. Students answer questions in the areas of English, math, reading and science. There is also an optional writing test that evaluates a student's ability to plan and write a short essay.
Gwinnett County's mean composite score for the Class of 2020 was 23, which is up 0.6 points fro the Class of 2019. It is also higher the state composite score (21.7) and the national score (20.6).
In the area of English, Gwinnett students posted a mean score of 22.4. Gwinnett students did better in reading, math and reading and science, however, with the district's mean score in math being 22.8, the mean reading score being 23.4 and the mean science score being 22.9.
But, the school system did better in every area of the ACT in 2020 than it did in 2019. Athough English showed the lowest mean score for the district, it was the area where Gwinnett County Public Schools posted its largest gain (0.7 points). Reading and math each showed an improvement of 0.6 points and the science score was up by 0.5 points.
The schools that saw higher mean composite scores in 2020 versus 2019 were Archer (up 1.3 points), Berkmar (0.6 points), Discovery (0.6 points), Duluth (1.1 points), Lanier (0.9 points), Meadowcreek (1.1 points), Mill Creek (0.6 points), Norcross (0.6 points), North Gwinnett (0.6 points), Parkview (0.5 points) and Peachtree Ridge (1.3 points) high schools as well as the Gwinnett Online Campus.
Gwinnett County Public Schools Class of 2020 mean composite ACT scores
|Field 1||Field 2||Field 3|
|School2018-19 composite scoreArcher High School21.2Berkmar High School19.4Brookwood High School23.9Central Gwinnett High School19.1Collins Hill High School22.6Dacula High School21.6Discovery High School20Duluth High School21.7Grayson High School21.4GSMST30.8Gwinnett Online Campus23.5Lanier High School21.4Meadowcreek High School18.9Mill Creek High School23.3Mountain View High School23.2Norcross High School22.2North Gwinnett High School25.1Parkview High School23.1Paul Duke STEM High SchoolN/APeachtree Ridge High School22.8Shiloh High School19.4South Gwinnett High School18.6District overall22.4Georgia21.4Nation20.7||2019-20 composite score||22.520.523.718.822.421.220.622.820.818.104.22.168023.92322.825.723.623.524.118.818.32321.720.6|
Gwinnett County police ID suspect accused of highjacking car with mother, baby inside
Gwinnett County police announced a break through in a case involving a hijacking that resulted in mother jumping with her baby from her moving car in a daring escape.
Police said they have identified Quinton Rogers, 42, as a suspect in the hijacking. He faces charges of hijacking a motor vehicle and two counts of kidnapping. He is not in custody and police are urging him to turn himself in to law enforcement.
Police previously said the mother stopped at the Exxon Gas Station at 1350 Boggs Road in unincorporated Duluth after buying fast food on Aug. 18. She was eating at the trunk of her car while her one-year-old child was asleep in the car.
“While the victim was eating, a male can be seen walking up the roadway to the gas station on foot,” police said in a statement in early September. “When he sees the victim, he changes direction and walks over to her. The victim was visibly startled by the male when he walked up behind her.
“The male reached for what the victim believed was a gun and punched her in the face multiple times. The male told the victim to get in the backseat of the car with her baby while he got in the driver’s seat. The vehicle can be seen on surveillance leaving the scene with two of the car doors wide open.”
Gwinnett police are seeking the public's help to find a man who allegedly kidnapped a woman and her young child, both of whom ultimately escaped, at a gas station last month .
Rogers is accused of allegedly demanding the mother give him money and threatening to choke and kill her as he drove her car away from the gas station. The mother then grabbed the infant car seat, with her child inside it, and jumped out of the moving vehicle, police said last month.
The car was found abandoned the next day in Duluth. Police believe the mother was randomly targeted.
Anyone who has information about the suspect’s identity is asked to call detectives at 770-513-5300 or Crime Stoppers, which lets tipsters remain anonymous, at 404-577-8477. They can also www.stopcrimeATL.com. Crime Stoppers does offer a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest and indictment.
Tipsters are asked to reference case No. 20-061554.
Buford City Schools named top district in Georgia
Buford City Schools is again rated the best school district in Georgia, according to Niche’s annual report. It is the sixth straight year that the district has held the top spot in the Niche rankings.
Niche rankings are based on rigorous analysis of data and reviews. According to a press release from the school, Buford was ranked No. 1 out of 182 school districts, as well as topping the charts in the following categories:
♦ Safest school district in Georgia.
♦ Best place to teach in Georgia.
♦ Best school district for athletes in Georgia.
♦ Best public elementary school (Buford Academy) in Georgia.
“The Niche annual report is a valuable measure of how our community views the work our district is doing,” Buford City Schools Superintendent Robert Downs said. “The fact that we continue to be ranked as the top school district through a year full of unique challenges speaks volumes of our incredible staff.
“We appreciate the opportunity we have each day to partner with our families in their students’ education.”
This week Buford High also shined with the release of the state ACT scores. The scores are based on 2020 high school graduates who took the ACT at some time from grades 10 to 12.
Buford High School showed an increase in each subject. The composite score was 3.8 points higher than the national average and 2.5 points higher than the Georgia average.
“As compared to 2019 ACT scores, Buford City Schools experienced an increase in each area of the ACT with an overall Composite score of 24.2. BCS students scored well above both the state (21.7) and the national average (20.6),” said Amy Chafin, director of curriculum for Buford City Schools said. “This continued increase is a direct reflection of high expectations, rigorous curriculum, and excellent instruction and leadership provided by K-12 teachers and administrators in Buford City Schools.”
Lilburn police officer praised for saving train workers during derailment
A Lilburn police officer is being recognized for his efforts to save the engineer and conductor from a train that derailed in the city over the weekend.
Senior Police Officer Almedin Ajanovic was heading home from an off-duty job early Sunday morning when heard dispatched about the derailment and fire on the CSX line in the city.
Ajanovic headed to Main Street and Camp Creek Road in Old Town Lilburnto offer his assistance, according to Capt. Scott Bennett. He went into the woods along the tracks and the Camp Creek Greenway when he saw a “massive fireball” as he heard an explosion.
He then spotted the train wreckage.
“He was able to hear male voices in distress and called out to them,” Bennett said. “Seeing a man standing on the train and observing a large amount of red fluid all around, he asked if there were others on the train and was told just one and they were together. Ignoring the heat from the fire and and a “Danger High Voltage” sign on the side of the train, SPO Ajanovic climbed on the wrecked rail cars to help both men down.”
The heavy rains from Hurricane Delta that moved through metro Atlanta this weekend washed out train tracks in Lilburn early Sunday morning, causing the train to derail, several rail cars to catch on fire and, as a result, prompting an evacuation of homes in the surrounding area.
Lt. Justin Wilson said firefighters were called to the scene of the derailment, which was on the CSX line near Main Street and Camp Creek Parkway, at 1:43 a.m. A 9-1-1 caller said two CSX employees were trying to get out of the train and that it was taking on water.
Firefighters were already in the area looking into reports of a woods fire on Bailey Drive, which they discovered was related to the train derailment.
“On arrival, crews found what would later be confirmed as 38 railcars derailed between Main Street NW and Rockbridge Road NW,” Wilson said. “A Unified Command with representatives from Gwinnett Fire and Lilburn Police was established at Lilburn City Park. Several railcars were engulfed in flames shortly after arrival between Jon Jeff Drive NW and Bailey Drive SW.”
After Ajanovic got the train’s conductor and engineer to safety near Main Street, they were taken to Northside Gwinnett Hospital to be treated for minor injuries.
Gov. Brian Kemp praised Ajanovic for his efforts.
"Please join me in thanking Officer AJ Ajanovic, who saved the lives of two conductors on a derailed train Sunday," Kemp said in a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon. "Across our state, we are grateful for heroes in law enforcement, like AJ, who don’t run away from danger, but selflessly run in to help their fellow Georgians."
Meanwhile, hazmat crews began atmospheric monitoring for hazardous materials. Wilson said they did encounter some problems with initiating spill control measures because of a swollen creek.
“With the fire involving hazardous materials, a decision was made to begin evacuation of the area closest to the fire,” Wilson said. “Lilburn Police and firefighters assisted with this task and the Reverse 911 system was activated by the Gwinnett County E911 Communications Center. The Reverse 911 system contacted land lines within a half-mile radius of the incident and instructed people to evacuate the area until further notice.”
Firefighting crews did set up apparatuses on both sides of the fire in an effort to prevent the fire from moving through the wood lines and to protect nearby homes. They also used an unmanned master stream appliance to cool off the railcars that had been exposed to the fire.
It was not until about 5:30 a.m. that crews felt they brought the fire under control enough and gotten the air quality to a level where they felt it was safe to let residents return to the homes.
“Multiple agencies were involved in bringing the situation under control in the early morning hours,” Wilson said. “CSX representatives arrived on scene quickly and began a massive mobilization of response personnel. Lilburn Police, Gwinnett County Police and the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office supported the operations with evacuations and traffic control in the area. Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources responded to the scene to investigate the impacts on storm water runoff.”
DeKalb County Fire Rescue’s Hazmat Team also provided assistance and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division responded to the incident as well.
“Firefighters will continue to remain on scene and support CSX operations as needed,” Wilson said. “CSX is working with environmental cleanup companies to minimize impact to the environment.”
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