Editor's Note: This story incorrectly described Burke County sheriff’s Deputy Jay Hollingsworth’s family. He has one daughter, Rachel, and three sons, Hayden, Michael and Troy.
WAYNESBORO - After more than 18 years in law enforcement, Burke County sheriff’s Deputy Jay Hollingsworth has seen his fair share of gunshot wound victims. This past September, he became the victim.
On Sept. 6, Hollingsworth, 43, was called to the scene of a structure fire in Sardis, Ga., to assist with traffic control. While speaking with firefighters, Hollingsworth said, he felt a sharp pain in his stomach, which he originally thought to be shrapnel from an exploding paint can.
But a lone bullet had tore through his stomach and lodged itself into his spine in what he describes as a freak accident
“Unknown to me, there was a loaded firearm inside,” he said. “As it heated up, it had a bullet in the chamber, which caused it to go off. It just found me standing out there with the firefighters.”
It wasn’t until first responders tore his shirt away that he recognized the all too familiar look of a gunshot wound on his torso. Panic set in as he feared he wouldn’t make it to the hospital in time.
“My main concern was that I was bleeding on the inside, which I’ve seen happen several times on the streets,” he said. “I knew I had to get from Sardis, Ga., to (Georgia Regents Medical Center), which is a 40 minute ride.”
Hollingsworth regained control of his nerves as he was wheeled through the doors of the emergency room. But two surgeries severely limited his ability to return to work, where he split time on patrol and teaching kids through the department’s D.A.R.E. program.
Through the first four months of rehabilitation, he wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk.
Hollingsworth, who also spent 12 years at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, was cleared to return to full duty by the end of April. He said he now can enjoy doing what he enjoys most: working with Burke County’s youth.
“It feels like – having done it 18 years – that we have a better relationship with the public,” he said of his interaction with students in the D.A.R.E program. “Having been in those schools and seeing those students as they grow up, they recognize us more than they would other officers on the street. It shows that we’re not really threatening or just out to get people, but that we’re actually people, too.”
Hollingsworth, who joined the Burke County Sheriff’s Office in 1996 after graduating from Valdosta State University, said he was practically raised in the sheriff’s office. Most of his family hails from Sardis, and his father, Chief Deputy James Hollingsworth, is a 29-year veteran of the department.
“It’s been good,” said James Hollingsworth on working with his son. “He probably wouldn’t say that because I stay on him pretty good. But just seeing him grow in his job performance and his knowledge of the job, it’s been rewarding.”