There are times I wish I were clairvoyant; it would really help me in covering the news, knowing what stories will have me shed a tear (yes contrary to popular belief we do have hearts) and those that will warm a heart and even make me laugh.
I really could have used really clairvoyant powers this year, but being a mere mortal I have to rely on my instincts. These instincts have served me well so far, but never protected me from what I may encounter when I arrive on scene to cover a story.
This past year the stories I covered once again put me through a wide range of emotions, one in particular which hit me hard as it did many others in our community.
I am, of course, referring to the death of a giant of a man, Ludowici Police Chief Frank McClelland, who was killed in September while trying to stop traffic at an intersection in Ludowici. Officers from Liberty County were involved in a high speed chase with a suspect. The chase made its way to Frank’s beloved city. Frank, who I was later told was at home relaxing, left his home without hesitation and made a bee line to the intersection. Also killed was an Army veteran by the name of Marvin Pope, who was riding his motorcycle on Highway 84 and was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
I wish that I knew in January 2017 what September was going to bring, the tears, the heartache of a family and community. This realization came full circle for me in October while covering a Brian Kemp rally in Ludowici. I came across Frank’s widow whom I had not seen since her husband’s funeral. We spoke briefly and she told me how highly Frank had thought of me, and when our conversation ended we hugged. I could feel her sobbing. I tried to fight back tears and be strong for her. I never know how a story is going to affect me, especially one close to home as was Frank’s story. It’s still an open wound which will take time to mend.
On the bright side, I was privy to be part of a reunion on forgiveness and reconciliation. This story never made print, but it was shot by me and aired on WJCL-TV and narrated by Ciara Lucas who I felt did a great job. It was a 12 year quest to bring closure to an accident which changed the lives of a family and a deputy sheriff. J. D. Campbell has been a friend of mine for many years while he served with the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office. Last march, J. D. told me he was meeting Kelsey Blake and her 13-year old son, Ayden Blake, at the Chick-Fil-A restaurant in Hinesville on March 12. I asked why the date was significant. J. D. said that 12 years earlier he was involved in a chase resulting in an accident with the Blake family. J.D. was working for the McIntosh Sheriff’s Office at the time. He was eating dinner when a call came about an armed robbery suspect fleeing on I-95 north bound. J.D. responded and encountered Kelsey Blake as she shifted her vehicle to get out of the path of the chase, during which she entered the left side of the road as J.D.’s vehicle approached and he was unable to stop in time to avoid hitting her. What happened in those seconds changed the lives of each of the occupants of both vehicles forever. The vehicles made contact and then 18-month old Ayden was severely injured and not expected to make it through the night. Ayden did survive and sustained lasting injury to his brain. It took 12 years for Kelsey to reach out to J.D. And she did reach out to him through Facebook to close the years of anger she harbored over the situation. Following the initial meeting at the restaurant, there was a second meeting at Bryant Commons Park in Hinesville. Here their story was recorded, tears flowed, gifts were given and a reaffirmation of forgiveness was made. In case you’re wondering why J.D. never sought the family out, well he did try, and at the time the Blake family had been living in Atlanta. At that time, he was unable to track them down, a task now made easier with the internet. The case was eventually settled and was judged an unavoidable accident, an accident which changed lives but opened hearts and restored peace.
The last story which hit home to this seasoned reporter was the rescue of Deondre Shuman. Shuman was traveling on Georgia 196 westbound one August morning when he fell ill and swerved into the eastbound lane striking a tree. His vehicle caught on fire and by the grace of God three strangers stopped to save his life. Brandon Long, Ron Sluder, and Brian Gulliver rendered Deondre aid, who was unconscious inside the rapidly burning vehicle. Risking their own lives, they pulled, tugged and eventually pried Deondre out of the vehicle, before it was fully engulfed in flames. Neither of these men thought of themselves as heroes. Long told me it was the right thing to do. Their heroics were not lost on Deondre’s family who held a cookout for them. Ron Sluder had a prior commitment and was unable to attend. They along, with their families, were served food and drink at a recreation department hall where the event was held. They were honored by the family with prayer and a certificate of appreciation. Gulliver later joked he hurt his back carrying Deondre from the burning car, but it was all worth it. A grateful Deondre gave a hug to each of the men and thanked them. Yes, there are still angels who walk among us.