Traffic accidents are leading cause in officer deaths

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Tucked among shelves of award plaques and trophies at the Richmond County Sheriff's Office is a small memorial to its fallen deputies.

Photos of Deputies Eric Sikes and Shane Hamilton, who both died in on-duty traffic accidents, serve as a reminder of the ultimate price law enforcement officers sometimes pay to keep communities safe.

While local agencies have avoided any on-duty police deaths since 2007, the rest of the country has not fared so well.

Police deaths, which plunged to their lowest levels in nearly five decades last year, have risen 20 percent nationally in the first six months of 2009, according to a study released this week by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

The report shows 66 officers died between Jan. 1 and June 30, compared to 55 during the same time last year.

The danger is persistent and it's something that's always on their minds, deputies say.

Sheriff's Maj. Richard Weaver said the department does all it can to protect the deputies.

They use bulletproof vests in high-risk situations and reflective vests when working in the roadway.

"Anything that is out there to keep us safe, it's our policy to have those in place when we are out there working," Maj. Weaver said.

But although shootings make the headlines, it is traffic-related accidents that are the real killer.

For the 12th year in a row, officers killed while driving or standing outside their vehicles was the main killer with 26 fatalities since January.

The last local fatality was Deputy Sikes in 2007, who died after his police cruiser ran off the road and was pinned between two trees.

The deputy was on his way to work.

Of the 33 Richmond County deputy fatalities since 1893, 11 were caused by traffic accidents.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength said deaths can be tough for a department, but there is a wide support network from the law enforcement community when they occur.

He described it as a "close-knit family" that bands together when the worst happens.

"Every respect is paid to the officer for that ultimate sacrifice," Sheriff Strength said.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.

RECENT LOCAL DEATHS

RICHMOND COUNTY

- Eric Mark Sikes: March 21, 2007, killed in a traffic accident

- Shane Hamilton: Oct. 31, 2005, killed in a traffic accident

AIKEN COUNTY

- Jason Sheppard: Dec. 7, 2006, killed while directing traffic.

COLUMBIA COUNTY

- Wesley Mack: July 11, 2004, killed in a traffic accident.

VIEW THE ENTIRE LIST at www.augustaga.gov under the sheriff office's memorial page.

OTHER NATIONAL FINDINGS

- Traffic-related incidents rose by about 17 percent, from 30 in 2008 to 35 in 2009.

- Fatal officer shootings are up from 20 in 2008 to 22 in 2009.

- If trends continue, 2009 will be the 12th year in a row in which more officers are killed in traffic-related incidents than other causes.

- Twenty-four states had at least one officer fatality so far in 2009. There were two deaths in Georgia and one in South Carolina.

- All 66 officers killed so far this year were men. Ten percent of all officers killed in the whole of 2008 were women, the highest percentage recorded.

Source: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund report.

Comments (16) Add comment
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LEO
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LEO 07/17/09 - 04:54 am
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This article failed to note

This article failed to note Deputy Kenneth Burton, who was with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office and was killed in Jan. '04 while he was directing traffic at an accident on Peach Orchard Rd. I was his field training officer and he had been riding on his own for a short time. He was en route to relieve me as I was working another accident at the end of my shift, when he stopped to assist with traffic control at the intersection of Peach Orchard Rd. and Bobby Jones Expwy. He was struck by a vehicle whose driver was looking at that accident scene instead of paying attention to him directing traffic. Dep. Burton was a good deputy and a good man well liked by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him. His death put an exclamation point on the fact that drivers need to pay attention when they see blue lights and look out for officers who will be nearby.

1trugent
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1trugent 07/17/09 - 08:12 am
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Glad you mentioned that LEO.

Glad you mentioned that LEO. The Chronicle needs to do a little more research when covering stories such as these.

AugustaVoter
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AugustaVoter 07/17/09 - 12:08 pm
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Plus the SHERIFF determined

Plus the SHERIFF determined that Dep Sikes was NOT on duty when his accident happened. He was in a patrol car and on his way to work but the sheriff didn't want to pay for an on duty death. I was working that night when the call went out on our shift. You hear something like that and it sticks with you forever. Shane was not on duty either AC. He was in his POV on his way home to take his daughter trick or treating on Halloween when his accident happened. Shane was a friend of mine, a marine and a born again Christian. His smile is still missed. Thanks AC for your usual half-!@# reporting. By the way, if these officers had been determined to be on duty when they died, then they should be entitled to be on the National memorial in DC. http://www.nleomf.com/

AugustaVoter
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AugustaVoter 07/17/09 - 12:10 pm
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Please sign this pleadge

Please sign this pleadge people!
Help Protect Our Officers
DRIVE SAFELY: The Campaign to Decrease Officer Fatalities on the Road
http://www.nleomf.com/TheFund/programs/DriveSafely/index.htm

citizen0226
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citizen0226 07/17/09 - 01:00 pm
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Death is a very serious

Death is a very serious issue, and I can only express my deepest condolences for anyone who has met with a premature end. However, as a completely different issue, it is really hard to feel a lot of pity for any member of local law enforcement. For most of us our only interaction with these people is when we are stopped for traffic violations. Every single member of local law enforcement I have interacted with has proven himself/herself to be incredibly crude and unprofessional. They seem to only be concerned with standing on street corners and writing traffic tickets to rake in much needed revenue for the disfunctional Augusta city government. I really love how they complain that they are underpaid. Fact of the matter is that is what you get when you don't go to college. It is ridiculous how many expect to make 50 or 60k when all they have under their belt is a high school diploma and certification from the police academy. Sure they will claim it is a high risk job, but the above figures show quite the contrary. If you want a high-risk job, join the circus, or better yet the Army.

AugustaVoter
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AugustaVoter 07/17/09 - 01:15 pm
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Citizen, most of us have gone

Citizen, most of us have gone to college. I could be working in the IT business myself. But as a result of an unstable economy and a lack of "feel" for what I did, I decided to become a police officer. So I hope you don't ever need a police officer in an emergency. Ya know since they are uneducated, [filtered word] off and money hungry.

AugustaVoter
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AugustaVoter 07/17/09 - 01:18 pm
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And next time someone steals

And next time someone steals your pink flamingo from your yard or a tree lands on your house, PLEASE DO NOT CALL the police for you report. Write the report yourself so you can get your insurance money.

Fiat_Lux
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Fiat_Lux 07/17/09 - 01:22 pm
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If you stop and think about

If you stop and think about it "citizen", you probably would realize we aren't paying them the pittance they earn for their education but rather, FOR PUTTING THEIR LIVES ON THE LINE EVERY SINGLE DAY THEY SIMPLY SHOW UP FOR WORK! You've got some nerve, IMO. They didn't go after the money; they chose to protect and serve even the ingrates like you.

AugustaVoter
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AugustaVoter 07/17/09 - 01:23 pm
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Oh and one last thing, next

Oh and one last thing, next time you see a military vet, slap them in the face. You know since half of the police force is former military. I mean after all they are second class citizens to you.

LEO
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LEO 07/17/09 - 01:50 pm
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citizen0226, I would hope

citizen0226, I would hope that my wife doesn't read your little rant, because she would invariably verbally rip you a new one for your utter disrespect and callousness... and honey, if you are reading this, just remember, don't throw your pearls before swine.

klsm
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klsm 07/17/09 - 02:44 pm
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I am speechless citizen0226

I am speechless citizen0226 ... and for those who know me ... that is saying A LOT!!! How about putting your REAL name and address on your comment? At least I go by my initials ... but if you care to know it is KAREN LYNE SLATER MCDANIEL (KLSM). And I AM an investigators wife. You do not have a clue.

klsm
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klsm 07/17/09 - 02:46 pm
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Oh btw idiot ... my husband

Oh btw idiot ... my husband went to college and probably has more education than you do in all aspects of law enforcement. Sure hope you don't go missing in RC!!! LMAO!

corgimom
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corgimom 07/17/09 - 05:47 pm
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Citizen0226, since you think

Citizen0226, since you think it's such an easy, high-paying, cushy job, why don't you become a police officer?

Chuchi
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Chuchi 07/17/09 - 07:54 pm
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Based on the 2:00 pm post, it

Based on the 2:00 pm post, it rather sounds as if the good "citizen" has had a run-in or two with police officers over traffic violations. Hence the sequoia-sized shoulder chip.

blizard
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blizard 07/17/09 - 10:27 pm
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citizen0226, I assume you are

citizen0226, I assume you are a college graduate, but you appear as an idiot in print. If your education was in anyway funded by the public, you really should return the money because you are a disgrace to society with yur disrespect toward the authorities. Hopefully in your time of need an intelligent cop will turn his nose up at you, but I seriousy doubt that will happen since authorities are educated in law enforcement and in the handling emergency situations, and most have more compassion than a shallow moron such as yourself could ever comprehend.

Gothamist
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Gothamist 10/23/11 - 07:38 pm
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Citizen0226- You are a

Citizen0226- You are a Critic,Try walking a foot post in any city on a midnight shift, i bet you would change your tune.

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."- Teddy Roosevelt-1910

God Bless the R.C.S.O.

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