Originally created 05/20/00

Aiken honors safety workers



AIKEN - The police detective responsible for investigating homicides and unusual deaths in Aiken for the past six years has been named the city's top cop.

Chief Investigator Dwayne Courtney was named Officer of the Year at a banquet Thursday to honor employees at the Aiken Department of Public Safety.

"I didn't have a clue. And that's a bad sign for an investigator," he said.

The banquet honored a long list of heroes within the department who have battled late-night fires, captured drug-dealing killers, created Internet Web sites for community programs and, in one case, shed weight to get a dream job on the fire squad. The awards were voted on by Public Safety employees.

In Chief Inspector Courtney's case, he joined the agency in the early 1980s, working his way up to officer, corporal, sergeant, narcotics investigator and finally - a few months ago - chief investigator.

The homicide detective was lead investigator in the 1993 murder of 73-year-old Andrew Hagan, a former Aiken public safety director who was stabbed 34 times during a brutal home invasion. It was the only case ever to warrant a death penalty for a murder in the city of Aiken. Working for six months, Mr. Courtney finally brought Willie Hicks to justice Mr. Hicks remains on death row.

"They made an arrest just through interviews, follow-up leads and door-to-door work," recalls Public Safety Chief Pete Frommer. "When that investigation was going on, that's all they did."

Chief Inspector Courtney, an Aiken High School graduate and Army veteran, was recognized Thursday as a team player who puts his heart into the job.

As an investigator on a child abuse case that left a boy in a wheelchair, the investigator watched as the stepfather was found guilty of only a minor crime. Mr. Courtney was one of many who recognized the need for stiffer penalties and fought for them in the state legislature. On the same day he was named Officer of the Year, he traveled to Columbia to watch Gov. Jim Hodges sign the bill into law.

Firefighter Daniel Williams, honored Thursday as Volunteer of the Year, had his own battle as a teen-ager in 1993. Weighing 220 pounds and having little chance at passing the physical fitness test required of a fire cadet, he started a diet and a running routine that helped him shed 40 pounds in four months.

"I wanted to be a fireman," he said. "I was already a firefighter in Graniteville. I wanted to be here and go to school. They pay part tuition when you work here."

Seven years later, Mr. Williams works full time with the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department while volunteering for the Aiken County Hazardous Materials team, Graniteville Volunteer Fire Department and the Aiken Department of Public Safety.

Patrol Sgt. Matthew Braxton, 32, also was honored Thursday by the Governor's Youth Council for creating a Web site - www.youthcouncil.net - to help the 2nd Judicial Circuit publicize programs in Aiken, Barnwell and Bamberg counties. The Web site includes forums, chat rooms and information on events going on in those counties. The Aiken Boxing Club also honored Sgt. Braxton for putting them on the Web.

"It was stuff that I felt was a good cause," said Sgt. Braxton, who created the Web sites on his home computer during his free time.

Finally, firefighter Bill Musselwhite was named Employee of the Year. Besides working full time in the agency's maintenance department, he often gets up in the middle of the night to volunteer as a firefighter.

"There could be something going on at 2 or 3 in the morning, and Musselwhite would be there," said Detective Keith Glover said. "He doesn't give 100 percent; he gives 150 percent."

Detective Glover, himself, was honored Thursday night during a Law Enforcement Appreciation Night at Fort Gordon. He was given an outstanding law enforcement award by the American Society of Industrial Security, recognizing his outstanding abilities in nabbing burglary suspects. He played a key role in solving the city's only 1999 slaying, helping track down a suspect in New York.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895 orscbureau@augustachronicle.com.