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Area officers receive valor awards
200 Club recognizes law enforcement for heroic actions
0220 valor awards
From left: Liberty County Sheriffs Deputy Cpl. Ralph Dixon Jr., Midway Police Department Officer Mark Rich, Georgia State Patrol Trooper Eric Wilkes and LCSO Deputy Sgt. Marty Adams show friends and family members their valor medals and plaques following a 200 Club of the Coastal Empire awards ceremony. - photo by Denise Etheridge

Three of four area law enforcement officers honored Thursday by the 200 Club of the Coastal Empire said they had never fired a weapon in the line of duty until confronted by a gunman last March. They all expressed deep regret over the suspect’s loss of life and said they do not consider themselves heroes; rather, they said they were simply doing their jobs.

The club presented its fifth "200 Club Valor Award" to Liberty County Sheriff’s deputies Sgt. Marty Adams and Cpl. Ralph Dixon, Georgia State Patrol trooper Eric Wilkes and Midway Police Department officer Mark Rich at its annual meeting at the Charles H. Morris Center in Savannah.

Coastal Courier staff writer Patty Leon contributed to this report.


The honorees were recognized for their heroic actions while under fire after arriving on the scene of a shooting March 22, 2010.

William Gordon posed a danger to his family and the community after he reportedly set fire to his parents’ storage shed, stole weapons from their home and fired on law enforcement officers who stopped him in Midway, according to a story printed in the Coastal Courier last year. Williams was fatally shot during the exchange with deputies on Highway 84 near Isle of Wight. Officers reportedly had commanded Gordon repeatedly to drop his weapons before shots were fired.

"It’s humbling to be recognized," Wilkes said. "It was a tragic event. It affected a lot of families."

Wilkes, who was assigned to GSP Post 11 in Hinesville last year, now works out of GSP Post 45 in Statesboro. He says he had never fired his gun in the line of duty until last year.

"It’s a great honor," Dixon said of the award he received. He, like Wilkes, had never shot anyone until he was pressed to use force last year.

"It makes you more aware," he said. "You train for it, you prepare for it. You don’t expect it to happen. But it’s out there."

Dixon’s fellow deputy, Adams, a 24-year veteran with the LCSO, said he was overwhelmed by the recognition. And he, like Dixon and Wilkes, had never shot at a suspect before last March.

"It was the first time I had to fire my weapon," he said. "And hopefully it will be the last."

Only Rich had ever had to use deadly force before last year’s shooting in Midway.

"I was involved in a police shooting in 2003 on an armed robbery suspect in Richmond Hill," he said. Rich was referring to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Jayme Lamont Grate. Grate had reportedly aimed a rifle at Rich after robbing a truck stop.

The Midway police officer said he is a state-certified instructor trainer and trains other officers in the use of firearms, deadly force, SWAT and officer survival.

"It’s a fluid situation when it’s rolling," he said of active shooter incidents. "We in law enforcement are reactive, not proactive. The decisions we make are based on the actions of the other party (the suspect). It’s truly a great honor to be recognized for the things we do that are beneficial … for the things we do every day to protect our citizens."

The honorees were selected for the award by a committee of Law Enforcement and Fire Command Officers, explained Tak Argentinis, club president. Nominations were received from the 20 counties — as far north as Beaufort, S.C., and as far south as Jacksonville, Fla. — that make up the 200 Club of the Coastal Empire’s support area, Argentinis said.

"The award recipients will each be given a plaque and a medal of valor," he said. "They will separately receive a gift of $2,500."

Adams said until he and his family attended the award ceremony, he hadn’t known much about the club’s commitment to supporting first responders and their families.

"We have an amazing mission, but we have an awareness problem," said Lowell Kronowitz, club chairman. "Not enough people know our (club’s) story."

The club’s primary mission is to assist families of law enforcement officers and firefighters who die or suffer critical injuries in the line of duty. Since the club began 10 years ago, it has provided benefits to 38 families of fallen officers and firefighters, said Charles Morris, club chairman emeritus.

The club is a nonprofit, independent organization that relies solely on its 300-plus members’ annual dues to provide donations to families of fallen and injured police officers and firefighters, Morris said.

"The dues are only $250 a year," he said.

"There can’t be enough said about our people in uniform," Kronowitz said. "We have a unique opportunity as a civilian organization to support those who wake every morning to protect us."

Morris said many city and county governments don’t have the immediate resources to assist their first responders, especially in today’s climate of budget cuts.

Kronowitz said club members were especially thankful that this year’s four valor award recipients were able to come home to their families after risking their lives to serve others.

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