Originally created 05/18/99

Officers receive recognition for outstanding duty



There was no way Otis McGraw couldn't do his job.

Despite his injuries, despite the fear he felt when a Budweiser delivery truck pulled out in front of the prison van full of inmates he was driving in February, the Richmond County sheriff's deputy pulled himself from the accident wreckage and checked on the prisoners in his custody.

"What was I thinking?" the deputy said Monday. "In all honesty, I was thinking `Oh God!' It was a pretty big truck. I've never been that afraid. But I have no choice but to do my job."

Deputy McGraw received the sheriff's department's Medal of Valor at a Monday awards ceremony, which followed National Law Enforcement Week. National events were held last week, including a service at the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, where the names of officers killed on duty are engraved.

At the Richmond County ceremony, four officers who participated in a motorcycle ride as part of the national ceremony presented Sheriff Charles Webster with rubbings of panels where the names of Richmond County officers are engraved.

The last officer killed in the line of duty in Richmond County was Board of Education Public Safety Officer Michael Stephenson, who was shot in 1997 when he responded to a burglary alarm at Jamestown Elementary School.

Monday's ceremony recognized the efforts of area police officers, and keynote speaker Ken Gross, chaplain for the sheriff's department, talked about the sacrifice officers and their families make to keep residents safe.

"These deputies, these families, do the same thing day in and day out that the fallen officers did: put themselves in harm's way and allow their loved ones to put themselves in harm's way to keep us safe," he said.

The department gave awards to more than 40 officers for outstanding duty -- including an excellent duty award for the entire Southside Crime Suppression Unit -- and seven citizens community service awards. Several awards were given in connection with the February accident, which injured 14 prisoners, Deputy McGraw and the truck driver, who was driving with a suspended license.

The awards included a community service award to William Scicchitano, a registered nurse who pulled over to help.

Rural/Metro Ambulance Service also presented awards to 17 deputies for their work in cooperation with emergency workers.

Alisa DeMao can be reached at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com.