Early in the morning, just before the commuter rush picked up, a Columbia County deputy stepped from his car on Washington Road, a tough place for traffic.
His cruiser in the center turn lane, blue lights flashing, the deputy was putting on his orange reflective vest to divert traffic around someone's pet cat that had been run over on the busy street.
Hey, that's glamorous, isn't it? Just like in the movies.
The fact is, most of the work cops do is just like that -- routine duty. It is their part of knitting together the fabric of the community, or keeping it from unraveling. Most days are spent talking to citizens and shopkeepers, slowing down speeders and sorting out the wreckage of those who don't.
Wesley Mack was performing just such routine duty Sunday morning, running radar from his motorcycle on Interstate 20 near Belair Road. He'd finished writing up a motorist for going too fast -- who knows, possibly saving someone else's pet cat, or someone else's family -- when he pulled out in front of another vehicle and was hit.
The crash threw Mack off his motorcycle and onto the pavement. An air ambulance took him to the Medical College of Georgia Hospital, nicknamed by emergency workers as the "Miracle College" for saving the lives of so many mangled people.
There were no miracles for Mack. He hung on for another day, but finally passed away Monday.
"We've lost a great deputy and a friend," said Sheriff Clay Whittle. "He had character and always had a smile and a kind word."
Indeed he did; the last time I saw Mack was when he and other deputies were getting ready to help with one of those routine duties: Setting up traffic control and parking for the Red, White and Blue Veterans Celebration in Evans.
A retired Army sergeant, Mack was the sort of man we honor each year with that celebration for service to our country. That day, as always, he looked like a model for a kid's hero action figure -- sturdy, bald, his pants tucked into his tall black motorcycle boots, like a G.I. Joe in a cop's uniform. We joked around a little, he went to do his job, I rode off for mine.
He'd done his job for the nation during a 20-year career in the Army, and after retiring at Fort Gordon came to work in the Columbia County Sheriff's Office just a couple of years after Sheriff Whittle first was elected. Mack exemplified the kind of cop the county has gradually up-graded to in the past few years; while we have plenty of entry-level young cops, many are also professionals for whom the Sheriff's Office is a second career, providing a place for service to our community after they've served their country.
By all rights, Mack should have been around for many more years. He wasn't just a good cop, but as a black officer also provided a good visual role model for kids in the community, and for his own children and grandchildren. He should still be around for more routine patrols, more traffic stops to keep our streets safe.
Sadly, none of the stuff these guys do is really routine. Every time Mack pulled on his boots for another 12-hour shift, he ran the risk of leaving them standing by the roadside like silent sentinels, just as they stood Sunday afternoon until his scattered effects were picked up from the interstate crash scene. Many times before, he'd been among those filling out the paperwork after such a collision, and this time Georgia State Patrol troopers had the sad duty of filing the reports on Mack's crash.
Wesley Mack will long be remembered as the first Columbia County deputy in anyone's memory to have died in the line of duty. He ought to be remembered as more than that -- maybe as a heroic action figure.
Anything but routine.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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