Columbia County Sheriff’s Lt. Keith E. Cox, Deputies Wes Ward and Bobby Atma and Georgia State Patrol Trooper Matthew J. MacDonald were honored for pulling Joseph Banks, of Dallas, Ga., out of his burning truck on Interstate 20 in June.
At the ceremony at the Georgia Public Safety Training facility in Forsyth, Ga., Deal spoke about how dangerous the job of a public safety officer is, said Wes’ father, Mike Wes. He talked about Atlanta officers Richard J. Halford, 48, and Shawn A. Smiley, 40, who were using a helicopter to search for a missing 9-year-old boy Saturday night when it crashed and they were killed.
The ceremony recognized more than 20 Georgia public safety members, Wes said, from firefighters to a diver from the Department of Natural Resources.
On June 23, the four local officers responded at 1:46 a.m. to an accident on I-20. There, they found a Ford F350 ablaze on the guardrail and Banks about halfway out the driver’s side window. He was caught by his seat belt, and his legs were pinned between the seat and the door.
The officers used a crowbar to free Banks’ legs and cut his seatbelt. The fire department arrived as they were freeing Banks and provided water to tame the flames.
From the Medical College of Georgia Hospital, where he was treated for second-degree burns on his legs and a broken pelvis, Banks recalled the officers rushing toward him despite the growing fire.
“(They ran to me) with complete disregard for their own safety,” Banks said. “All they were worried about was getting me out.”