Despite what movies and TV shows have long depicted, shootouts and dark alley chases aren't what usually claim the lives of officers. The things they do every day often prove most dangerous.
The deadly moments typically come from traffic stops or while serving warrants - or while checking in on a car in a middle school parking lot. These are the types of situations that ultimately led to six Georgia officer deaths in 2018.
In fact, according to the Associated Press, more police officers are being killed in the line of duty than ever before. The most common cause is gunfire followed by car crashes. There was a 12 percent increase in officer deaths from 2017 to 2018.
“The call that no officer ever wants to receive. Signal 63, officer down. Shots fired,” Locust Grove Police Chief Jesse Patton said.
He uttered those words at the February funeral of Officer Chase Maddox.
A 5-year veteran of the Locust Grove Police Department, Maddox was shot and killed while responding as backup to officers serving a bench warrant for a minor traffic violation. Two other officers were injured and survived, but 26-year-old Maddox died days before his wife gave birth to their second child.
“You go back and forth with a whirlwind of emotions and having a baby and having our other son and having to deal with everything and just seeing everybody remember my amazing husband is what we need,” said Maddox’s widow, Alex, at a fundraiser held a few weeks after his death.
A few months would go by without another officer death in Georgia, but that all changed on May 25, when Officer Anthony Christie was killed. The Savannah police officer was assisting traffic control after a crash when a tractor-trailer hit the side of his vehicle with him inside.
His death rocked two brotherhoods - the blue and the Navy. Christie served in the U.S. Navy for 13 years and remained a reservist while a police officer.
Another veteran, both as an officer and of the military, was killed in September of 2018. Ludowici Police Chief Frank McClelland Jr. was killed during a highspeed chase on September 15. During the chase, Chief McClelland was working to stop traffic along the route when the suspect’s car hit and killed him. At 69 years old, McClelland served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War and had more than 21 years of experience in law enforcement.
The remaining Georgia months would see three more officer deaths, all by guns.
When called about a suspicious car parking at a school during the weekend, Officer Antwan Toney walked up to talk to the people inside. But, he never got a word out because bullets started flying. Another officer returned fire and pulled Toney out of the way but it was too late. Toney, who stepped in front of the gunfire was hit and died a few hours later.
He had just celebrated just 30th birthday with his sister a few days before. And at his funeral, his partner made the crowd laugh for a few seconds, by remembering a promise Toney made to him.
“He always said he was going to be chief and I was going to be his assistant chief,” said Officer Martel Smith.
Being an officer was a lifelong dream for Toney, as it was for Dekalb Officer Edgar Flores, the fifth officer to be killed in Georgia.
“He did die a hero. He was doing what he was trained for,” said Dekalb Chief James Conroy.
Flores was shot and killed when a man ran from his traffic stop on Dec. 12. He was only an officer for 2 years. He left behind a 15-year-old brother who now wishes for nothing more than to wear his brother’s badge.
“I assured him that we would make that happen,” Dekalb Police Major KD Johnson said in response.
During the time of Flores’s death, another officer fought for his life for 20 days. Officer Michael Smith of the Henry County Police Department was shot Dec. 8 after struggling with a suspect in a dentist office in McDonough. He passed away Dec. 28 just after 4 a.m. He left behind a wife and 3-year-old child.
Smith’s wife fell and hit her head while visiting her husband and was diagnosed with blood clots after being rushed to the hospital
“Truly the Smith family is being tested,” said Henry County Police Chief Mark Amerman.
Indeed, all the families of the officers killed in 2018 were tested. But time and time again, each officer committed to their dreams of serving and willingness to better their communities. Even with the constant threat of danger, each officer put on their uniform and walked out into the world as they would have any other normal day.
But we know, for police, there’s no such thing as a normal day.