At the 2021 public safety awards banquet hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro, not one but two law enforcement officers were presented the Outstanding Public Servant Officer of the Year award for very different kinds of actions credited with saving lives.
On March 14, Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Stephen Herndon, a former U.S. Army Ranger, fired a deadly shot “stopping the threat,” from a man who had taken a woman hostage in Tattnall County, exchanged gunfire with a Georgia State Patrol trooper in pursuit on I-16 and, after being forced from the highway, engaged in a shootout with multiple law enforcement agencies near an occupied home in Bulloch County, said Sheriff Noel Brown.
On June 10, Bulloch County Code Enforcement officer and Portal Police Capt. Bobby Ivey pulled an injured woman to safety from a crashed and burning car, resulting in nominations from both the Bulloch County Emergency Medical Service and the Portal Police Department.
While Herndon and Ivey both received what is traditionally the one-person top award for valor, Chief Laura McCullough of the Georgia Southern University Police Department, nominated by others in her agency, was presented a newly created Meritorious Service Award. During the Nov. 11 ceremony, eight public safety professionals nominated by nine agencies received plaques, public praise and applause.
“There is no doubt that the life of the hostage was saved by Deputy Stephen Herndon and his fellow law enforcement officers that day,” Brown stated in his written nomination. “It is also likely, that if not stopped, the offender would have attempted to enter the nearby mobile home. Without Deputy Herndon’s willingness to engage the suspect without hesitation, there would have possibly been additional hostages as well as civilian casualties.”
The horrific March 14 chain of events also involved another of the Officer of Year nominees, Georgia State Patrol Trooper Aaron P. Ramirez, who has been recognized at the state level but was not chosen for one of the local awards. Ramirez, after overhearing police radio traffic about the pursuit on Interstate 16 of an armed male assailant with a female hostage “intercepted the vehicle pursuit and almost immediately became the primary pursuing” driver, GSP Post 45 Commander Lee Weaver wrote in his nominating letter.
The suspect shot at Ramirez as they sped down the highway, and the trooper “returned gunfire by shooting through his own windshield at the fleeing driver. … During the pursuit, one bullet from the fleeing driver entered … Ramirez’ windshield and grazed the top of his head,” but he continued the pursuit, Weaver reported.
Ramirez attempted a Precision Immobilization Technique, or “PIT maneuver” five times before forcing the suspect’s vehicle off the roadway, and he then fled on foot with his hostage in hand.
The Peace Officers Association of Georgia awarded Ramirez its annual Valor Award, presented by Gov. Brian Kemp at the annual POAG convention earlier this year. Ramirez was also nominated for the Georgia Department of Public Safety’s Valor Award, Weaver noted in nominating him for the local award.
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But Herndon, the Sheriff’s Office nominee, was the officer involved in the deadly March 14 incident chosen by the local nominating committee for one of the Bulloch County Officer of the Year awards.
“The young man I’m talking about that I’m very proud of tonight switched from a handgun real quickly to a long rifle, found an opening and where this offender … took his place behind a tree, the female had torn away from him and run away …,” Brown said in his spoken remarks Thursday, and stated that Herndon then shot the kidnapper in the head, “stopping the threat.”
Described in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s initial March 14 press release as having been “shot by multiple law enforcement officers,” the kidnapper was flown to Memorial Health University Hospital in Savannah, where he died. The GBI later identified him as Kelly Shannon Bowen, 51, of Vienna, Georgia. The GBI stated that initial incident was a home invasion in Reidsville and reported that members of the kidnapped woman’s family had initially pursued Bowen, who shot at them.
The June 10 lifesaving action that garnered Bobby Ivey his Outstanding Public Servant Officer of the Year recognition is simpler to describe. But Bulloch County EMS Director Doug Vickers acknowledged that his agency’s nomination of Ivey was unusual.
“Mr. Ivey never worked at Bulloch EMS …,” Vickers said. “There are, however, some acts of courage that transcend departmental boundaries.”
Vickers was traveling on Burkhalter Road when he saw a vehicle that had run off the road and struck a pine tree. In fact, photos of the white Ford Mustang taken in the aftermath show it wedged between two pine trees, one at each end. Right away, Ivey had also noted flames coming from the front of the vehicle.
Then he found a woman, unresponsive, still behind the steering wheel.
“Officer Ivey reacted without hesitation,” Vickers said. “Arriving at the vehicle with no protective clothing, … with no regard to his own safety, officer Ivey pulled the victim to safety.”
The driver, identified in other media in June as Taylor Fordham, 27, reportedly had other traumatic injuries. But medics on the scene were surprised to find no burns, Vickers said.
“We at Bulloch County EMS feel Officer Ivey showed the same courage and dedication to patient safety that we strive for,” Vickers said. “Therefore, Bulloch County Code Enforcement and Portal Police Officer Bobby Ivey is this year’s Bulloch County EMS public safety award nominee.” Portal Police Chief Jason Sapp also submitted a letter nominating Ivey.
When he first tried, Ivey had not been able to pull the driver from the car, he said when interviewed after the banquet. He credits God with giving him the strength he needed.
“The car was burning and I pulled on her every way I could,” Ivey said. “I just gave out, I fell to my knees and I looked up to heaven, I said, ‘Lord, please don’t let this little girl burn up in this car,’ and I took be a couple of breaths, stood up, and she come out like she was sliding on this floor.”
Meritorious Service Award
Other members of the Georgia Southern University Department of Public Safety nominated Chief of Police Laura McCullough for her leadership through “many challenges and obstacles” including the consolidation with the former Armstrong State University and its department, and a global pandemic. After beginning her law enforcement career in 2001 at Georgia College and State University, McCullough arrived at Georgia Southern in January 2005 and rose through the ranks to chief, now heading a department with about 65 sworn officers serving campuses in three cities.
“She cares deeply for this community and will fight tooth and nails for members of her department,” said Deputy Chief Clay Gracen. “She is a constant voice for our officers and continues to find ways to improve all things related to public safety and its personnel.”
Other nominees were Special Agent Christian Johnson of the GBI’s Region 5 Statesboro office, Fire Apparatus Operator Spencer Rowe of the Statesboro Fire Department, Capt. Kaleb Moore of the Statesboro Police Department and medic Matt Rogers of Air Evac Lifteam 95.
Two agencies, Bulloch County 911 and the Bulloch County Fire Department, nominated all of their employees.