The South Georgia Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and state safety officials offered thanks Saturday to law enforcement personnel in the fight against intoxicated driving.
The sixth annual MADD Recognition Banquet was held at the Colquitt County Agricultural Building in Moultrie, and awards were presented to officers and organizations from throughout the southern part of the state.
Sgt. Russ Covington of the Georgia State Patrol was recognized as officer of the year. MADD South Georgia Director Gary Robinson said Covington has assisted the chapter since its inception.
The Speaker of the Year award went to Dakota Baker of Norman Park. Baker, 14, lost her brother to a drunk driver in September 2010 and more recently became active in MADD in response to that tragedy. Last year, she became one of nine members of a MADD national youth panel focused on reducing teens’ use of alcohol.
Officers were recognized for multiple DUI arrests made in 2013. The largest number of such arrests was by Trooper 1st Class John Brinson of the Georgia State Patrol with 72. Brinson is based at Thomasville’s Post 12, which patrols Colquitt, Grady, Mitchell and Thomas counties.
The top eight DUI arresters were GSP troopers. Brinson and three of his Post 12 colleagues held four of the top five spots. The top ten were: Brinson (72); Trooper 1st Class Meed Kelly, GSP Thomasville (69); Trooper 1st Class C.P. Miller, GSP Tifton (68); Trooper 1st Class Stewart Parker, GSP Thomasville (67); Trooper 1st Class Chris Hosey, GSP Thomasville (65); Trooper 1st Class R. Harding, GSP Tifton (62); Chris Kelch, GSP Lowndes County (51); Jeremy Swain, GSP Lowndes County (49); Woodrow Burkhalter, Douglas Police Department (45); and Trooper First Class 2 John Sellers, GSP Houston County (35).
Other officers from Tift County who were recognized included Chris Spires and Rick Dorden, Tift County Sheriff's Office; Sgt. J.C. Roberts, B.P. Taylor, D. Sellars and Trooper First Class M. Spells, GSP Tifton; and Cpl. Alan Rowe, Lt. Michael Welch, Cpl. Mark Wynn and Cpl. Richard Davis, Ashburn Police Department.
The chapter also recognized its volunteers, judges, members of the media, and other emergency responders, such as The Tifton Gazette and Tift County Solicitor Bryce Johnson, but the focus was on law enforcement.
“Every drunk you get off the street, you save a life,” Robinson said.
Barry Martin, executive director of the state MADD chapter, said MADD was started 32 years ago and has made a dramatic shift in mindset and fatality statistics in those three decades.
“We know 30 years ago this was a crime that wasn’t taken very seriously,” he said. “It was pay your ticket and go home.”
Thirty yeas ago, he said, more than 22,000 people lost their lives in alcohol-related vehicle crashes. Today that number is less than 10,000.
The event concluded with a memorial award for Capt. John Bass of the Colquitt County Sheriff’s Office, who died in November. Sgt. Chris Robinson — last year’s MADD Speaker of the Year — told the assembly that Bass had been like a father to him after he went to work at the CCSO.
But as heartfelt as Robinson’s presentation was, it was Bass’s son, Brian, who moved the crowd when he took the microphone. Brian Bass expressed the sense of security and pride that he and his family felt because of his father’s role in law enforcement.
“There’s not a lot of career choices anybody could make that would make your family any prouder of you,” he told the officers in the audience.