CUMBERLAND — On a cold, rainy February day, as Detective Daniel Wood was headed down I-75 in Cobb, he spied a familiar scene: a wreck on the opposite side of the highway.
“I just thought it was a minor fender-bender,” Wood, a 14-year veteran of the Kennesaw Police Department, recalled.
It was anything but. As Wood hopped the median to investigate, he found more than a dozen cars piled up in a massive collision. A tractor trailer had smashed into a car hauler, while two other cars were ablaze. Worse still, another nearby rig was carrying two 50-gallon drums of oil, primed for a catastrophic inferno.
Wood jumped into action, moving the oil-laden truck out of harm’s way and radioing for more units. For his efforts, Wood was honored Monday with the Cobb Chamber’s 2021 Public Safety Employee of the Year award.
“You kind of go into autopilot,” Wood said after accepting the award. “First things first, you try to get everybody out that you can get out.”
Wood’s award was the capstone of the chamber’s annual Public Safety Appreciation Breakfast, recognizing police officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel from around Cobb County.
“The group of men or women here with us today, each has a story of how their dedication to duty and mission intersected with a person’s life at a critical time,” said Cobb Chamber Chairman John Loud, “A time when literally seconds count.”
The Coca-Cola Roxy was filled with nominees Monday, all of whom, Loud said, had showed that dedication in their careers.
Among the nominees were Austell’s Officer Edward Reeves and K-9 Jerry Lee, the latter of whom retired from the department earlier this year after losing his leg in a gunfight, and Cobb County police officers David Cavender, John Pearson, Bryan Moore.
The trio were involved in a June 2020 incident in which they pursued a carjacking suspect who ended up firing on the officers with a rifle. Cavender was struck by shrapnel before Pearson shot and killed Martin Humberto Sanchez Fregoso, of Smyrna.
The morning’s keynote speaker was Lance LoRusso, an attorney who serves as general counsel to the Georgia State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.
LoRusso urged his audience of hundreds to not take to heart the criticism directed at law enforcement over the last year.
“For the public safety professionals that are here today, I want to encourage you to ignore the noise. Ignore the negativity,” LoRusso said. “And it’s hard, it’s really hard sometimes, but I’m going to teach you a lesson that every entrepreneur in this building has learned. You can’t follow a compass that keeps changing north.”
The complete list of Tuesday’s award recipients is as follows:
Public Safety Employee of the Year: Detective Daniel Wood, Kennesaw Police Department
Award of Merit: Officers Dustin Trail and Tasia Sveda, Smyrna Police Department
Distinguished Achievement Award: Director Andrew Altizer, Kennesaw State University Public Safety Department; Major Jake King, Marietta Police Department
Outstanding Community Contribution: Deputy Director Kevin Gardner, Cobb County 911; School Resource Officer Brian Washington, Marietta Police Department
Medal of Valor: Officers David Cavender, John Pearson, Bryan Moore, Cobb County Police Department
Monday’s awards ceremony kicked off the county-wide Public Safety Appreciation Week. Community members, the chamber said, will “get together to make and deliver gift baskets, write thank you letters to personnel, deliver catered food or snacks and put messages on their social media or marquees to celebrate and thank public safety agencies throughout Cobb and in Georgia.”