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Shooting reveals perils of police life
Athens incident put local officers on alert
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The foot chase had ended, he thought. It was dark, wooded, 2 a.m. and the Atlanta carjacker whom Woodrow Tripp ran after as a city cop appeared hurt and motionless at the bottom of a shallow ravine.

Then, the suspect's hand moved.

A slight noise cued Tripp. His instinct triggered.

"I heard a sound and I knew what it was, the snap of a holster. I never saw the gun," said Tripp, who today commands the Hall County Sheriff's Criminal Investigations Division. "When I heard that simple snap, I immediately started shooting at him. And in fact, he drew a .357 Magnum and started shooting at me."

Training picked up where Tripp's instinct stopped. He backpedaled quickly as he fired his weapon and fell over a mound of earth.

A bullet struck him in the side and several more were shot above his head as his body dropped.

The suspect, who remains in jail, was immobilized with a gunshot to the leg that he eventually lost because of the injury, Tripp said.

"In corporate America, you do something wrong and your boss fusses, you get sent home, take a day off or, worst case, get fired," Tripp said. "In our world, you do something wrong and you could get killed. Most people don't go to work with that in the back of your mind. ... Sometimes you can do everything right and it still doesn't matter."

Tuesday's shooting death of Athens-Clarke County Police Department Officer Elmer "Buddy" Christian served as another grim reminder to officers and their families of the dangerous potential that exists in their every workday.

Within an hour of Christian's death and the serious shooting injuries suffered by his Athens colleague, Senior Police Officer Tony Howard, Hall County officers from various law enforcement agencies were talking about the midday crimes.

They monitored lookout bulletins, alerted patrols about the suspect identified by Athens-Clarke police as Jamie Hood, 33, and scoured roads for cars matching the advertised description.

Several officers and specialized units also responded to calls for service as part of the manhunt leading up to Hood's surrender on live television late Friday night.

Georgia State Patrol Post 6 in Gainesville, which covers Hall, White and Banks counties, reworked schedules to manage its traffic responsibilities as well as support Athens law enforcement and other troopers from different posts working in Clarke.

"(We are) sending as many troopers as we can and still complete our jobs in our assigned territory," said Sgt. 1st Class Dean Allen earlier this week.

On Thursday, Tripp confirmed a K-9 unit from the Sheriff's Office had been requested for possible work in Athens and that its S.W.A.T. team was on standby.

Several other departments including Gainesville Police extended a willingness to help the multiagency investigation apparently led by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

As part of that voluntary support, Gainesville Sgt. Chad Ford said investigators explored whether or not connections between the suspect and men or women in the city existed. None were discovered here, Ford said.

Commanders again stressed safety to patrol and traffic officers. Christian's death magnified the fact that there is no such thing as a "routine" call or traffic stop.

"It hits your heart, especially with them being close to home like that. It can happen at any time," Ford said. "The smallest little thing can go wrong. An officer can have a person stopped who has issues with the citation and something clicks. It's one of those things, you never know."

The impact of such losses is felt as deeply at home where spouses and children fear for their loved ones every time a cell phone conversation is cut off abruptly or headlines flash with another officer death.

"They definitely worry when they see something going on," Ford said. "They are sitting waiting for that phone call to make sure you're OK."

What police rely on to navigate them through tense confrontations is training, Tripp said.

He referenced several examples from his 20-year service with the Atlanta Police Department when preparedness was a life-saving matter.

Just as his training told him to fallback and find cover when he was shot, Tripp recounted another incident when holding his fire likely spared a child.

Though being fired at from a stairwell location above, Tripp did not shoot back because he could not see the suspect clearly.

Turns out there was a child in the bedroom behind the armed man.

"My training told me not to shoot at something you didn't see in the target," said Tripp, who easily imagines what could have happened. "Who would've been the bad guy?"

Following one's instincts is critical, too.

They must trust the hair raising on the back of their necks, the unexplained shiver and the slightest snap they think they've heard before.

"You have to listen to that stuff," Tripp said.

You also have to acknowledge that all the training and wherewithal might not make one bit of difference.

Howard was first shot as he got out of his patrol car to stop a vehicle he connected with the suspect's relative, police said.

Christian, whose funeral is 2 p.m. today, was shot and killed, police said, through the window of his cruiser when he arrived to the scene for support.

"Sometimes you can do everything right and it still doesn't matter," Tripp said. "These things happen to good people. They did nothing wrong but go to work that day ... When this happens you really realize just how vulnerable we are."