Before Richmond Hill Exchange Club President Chris Raiford handed out awards to the winners of the club’s law enforcement and public safety officers of the year, the local banker said his family’s long service in law enforcement makes him wish he could do more to show his appreciation.
“I know it’s often a thankless job,” Raiford said. “You put your lives on the line every day for us, and I, and we as a club, couldn’t be more appreciative of what you do.” That gratitude for those who protect and serve is something the Exchange Club has shown for more than 30 years. The awards have been presented regularly since 1985, club members say.
This year’s honorees were announced March 23 at the Richmond Hill City Center in an event attended by club members and city officials. And those honored don’t forget it anytime soon.
“This honor does mean a great deal to us. We look forward to it every year,” said Richmond Hill Police Department Chief Mitch Shores, who noted again this year that he keeps similar awards he was given as a patrol officer in Chatham County at his office in a place of prominence. “I do want to thank y’all for recognizing these folks,” Bryan County Sheriff Mark Crowe said. “They very rarely get recognized for what they do and they really, really appreciate it. It means something.”
This year’s winners: Det. Jesse Gonzalez, Richmond Hill Police Department Officer of the Year: Gonzalez, who retired from the Army after 20 years, has been with RHPD since 2010 and has shown “great leadership” and more, Shores said.
Shores cited Gonzales’ handling of missing person’s case in which the victim’s body was discovered in Jan. 2021 after he’d been missing for a year.
“What stands out in my mind,” Shores said, “was that Jesse stayed in constant contact with that family, giving them updates, answering their questions. And when eventually the body was discovered, he had to be the one to tell them, and it evolved into he became one of their family, they send Christmas cards. It’s because of the heart he showed to them in the investigation, that’s part of what we want people to see in our officers. That kind of heart, that kind of work, that kind of attitude.”
Detective Brenda Tyson, Pembroke Police Department Officer of the Year:
Representatives from Pembroke weren’t at the luncheon, but Pembroke Public Safety Director Bill Collins said Tyson “is very simply a very hard working police officer who doesn’t complain about any assignment given her. She’s one of the few who, when you ask her to take on a task, all she says is ‘yes sir. Because we’re shorthanded right now, she’s been very instrumental in stabilizing the department. She does everything in the office we need her to do, and everything on the street we need her to do. And during a trying time she’s made it a lot easier to operate our department. For me as the chief she’s been awesome.”
Deputy Kerry Carson, Bryan County Sheriff ’s Office Deputy of the Year:
Crowe said Carson, who has been with the department a few years, is so slight of stature she isn’t “100 pounds soaking wet,” but doesn’t back down from challenges and in October during a lunch at the Black Creek Golf Club was able to save a man from choking by doing the Heimlich maneuver. “A friend jumped up first and tried to do the Heimlich but was unsuccessful,” Crowe said, “so Deputy
Carson sprang into action and grabs the guy, and he’s a pretty good sized guy, and on her second attempt was able to get him off his feet and was able to do the Heimlich and saved the guy’s life.”
Dispatcher Leeannah Good, BCSO 911 Dispatcher of the Year:
Crowe said Good, a night shift supervisor for 911, and her fellow communications officers are often anonymous to the public, just a voice on the telephone where they “hear all the bad stuff and very rarely get to hear the good stuff.” That wasn’t the case recently when a call came in to 911 in which Good and her co-workers helped deliver a baby and, when the baby wasn’t breathing, helped the parents perform CPR and saved the child’s life. “The baby was not breathing, but due to Leeannah and her partners being able to instruct the parents, the baby was breathing when EMS arrived.” Crowe said that performance won her votes from Bryan County EMS workers.
Firefighter/EMT Lt. Kevin Tomko, Bryan County Emergency Services First Responder of the Year:
Bryan County Emergency Services Director Freddy Howell said Tomko, recently promoted to lieutenant, is one of those firefighters who does the job right. “Kevin is an exemplary employee that is always willing to put forth the extra effort to get tasks done,” Howell said. “Kevin goes above and beyond to assist in teaching and helping better his coworkers. Not only does Kevin work hard within the department, he goes one step further by assisting anywhere he can outside the department; for example he recently took his own time and money to bring food and water to firefighters undergoing the search and rescue efforts in the Miami building collapse. Kevin always has a smile on and he is always willing to help out wherever he can. Kevin steps up on and off shift. Always asking his commanding officers what next and taking on tasks without even being told. This award is well deserved and we are lucky to have him as a member of this department.”
Firefighter Raul Secundino, volunteer, Pembroke Fire Department:
Pembroke Fire Chief Peter Waters said Secundino, who has been with PPD for more than five years, is as dependable as they get. “If you need him for something and you call
him, he’s there. He goes above and beyond,” Waters said.
Capt. Roland Evans, Richmond Hill Fire Department:
Richmond Hill Fire Chief Brendon Greene said Evans “was vital in the creation of our new Junior Firefighter Pilot Program, teaching CPR, and teaching Fire and Life Safety Educator. Captain
Evans took over our uniform and apparel program while running our RHFD Auxiliary. Captain Evans has been working diligently on the upcoming Spring Fling,” and is a dedicatedteam member that always puts the interest of the department and community first.”