As steam rose from the crushed police car, Bill Taylor ran over to check on his good friend and colleague Henry Tilman Davis in the crash.
It’s a tough story to tell for the retired Gainesville Police Department captain, even as the intersection is set to be named for Davis almost 45 years after that moment.
Davis was riding as a passenger Sept. 29, 1972, when a car on Dawsonville Highway slammed into the rear and pushed Davis’ car into a second head-on collision.
Taylor responded to the incident.
“As I ran up to the car, the officer was bleeding — I want to say it was from his nose. I said, ‘Are you OK?’ And he said, ‘Check on Henry,’” Taylor recalled.
Taylor struggled to get Davis out of the car.
“I took my knife out and cut him out of the car and got him out, cut the seat belt off of him,” he said.
Davis was taken to Hall County Hospital, where he later died.
“We rode to the emergency room, and on the way I was giving him aid. But he never regained consciousness on the way,” Taylor said.
In October 1972, Davis’ badge No. 7 was retired.
State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said he plans to introduce a resolution to name the intersection of Dawsonville Highway and Beechwood Boulevard in Davis’ honor.
The date for the resolution is not yet determined, Hawkins said.
Ret. Gainesville Police Capt. Chad White, who has become the department’s de facto historian, said he thought it was an honor “long overdue.”
“As citizens of this county, we need to make sure we never forget Officer Davis and the sacrifice that he made,” White said.
At ages 3 and 1, April Chandler and Richard Tilman Davis said they don’t remember much from the time of the crash.
“I do remember my grandmother Davis, his mom, and my mother crying in front of the Christmas tree in December of ’72, as if it were yesterday,” said Chandler, who works as a nutrition manager at Riverbend Elementary School.
Richard Davis relied on the pictures and family stories about his father. He kept his father’s encased flag and badges in the living room where he would pass by it every day.
“You go through life not ever knowing somebody but hearing people talk about him. They always had a kind word to say about him,” he said.
Taylor and Davis bonded over their background in military police, involvement in high school athletics and love for fishing.
After a shift ending around 10:30 p.m., the two would head out on Taylor’s jon boat on Lake Knickerbocker.
“A lot of times we’d just stay till daylight,” he said.
Taylor started with the department in 1967, two years before Davis entered the police force.
“He was just a really, really good police officer, and I think that comes from the military. He knew how to handle situations,” Taylor said.
The skill, Taylor said, was being able to adapt to whatever the shift may bring.
“You might go from one call where you have some hostility, and the next call you might go to might be a kid that’s lost,” he said. “So you have to be able to adjust.”
“It will leave a legacy for our family and our own children,” Chandler said.