Police officers are scrutinized more than ever in today’s world. They are subject to audio and video recordings where the world can review their response to any incident. Also, their actions are constantly questioned by members of the community and media. Further, when they use force, they are rarely supported by the public. In 1997, officers from the Glynn County Police Department were forced to use the force they spent 3 ½ hours trying to avoid.
In the act of desperation, and enraged and bitter about his pending divorce, Donald Michael Wood, 37, made a decision that would ultimately end his life.
A Fateful Day
On August 15, 1997, Donald Wood decided to kidnap his estranged wife of two years, Carolyn Elizabeth Wood, at gunpoint, from her parent’s residence on St. Simons Island, Ga. According to the Savannah Morning News, reports indicated that Wood, a former employee with the Glynn County Office of the Sheriff, was a violent man with a history of domestic violence.
After assaulting Carol Wood’s parents, Wood fled their home with Carol Wood as his hostage. Wood’s vehicle was then located by a Glynn County Police officer near Frederica Road on St. Simons Island. In a fit of rage, Wood recklessly fired several shots from his handgun at the officer and the 3 ½ hour pursuit ensued. During the pursuit, Wood wrecked his vehicle and further demonstrated violence by carjacking a Sea Island Company utility pickup truck. After the carjacking, officers from the GCPD and Georgia State Patrol continued to pursue Wood through many areas of Glynn County.
According to Cpl. Glenn Hester (retired), “One of our officers was shot at, and Wood took them on a chase with his wife in the vehicle.” Per Hester, Wood, in desperation, then called the GCPD’s 911 Center. Upon receiving Wood’s call, Hester and Capt. Gerry Blakebrough (retired) attempted to calm him down, as he was going ballistic and completely out of control. “His parents came to the station, and we put them in a room and kept them updated on what was happening,” said Hester.
Although Wood was a clear and present danger to everyone involved, the GCPD did NOT want to use deadly force. The police chief, Carl Alexander, desired to make every effort to engage Wood and convince him to peacefully release Carol Wood. Alexander’s patience was evident in the amount of time that transpired before the final decision was made.
Hester said, “After the order came to take him out, Cpl. Robert Harvey (retired) used his patrol vehicle to ram Wood’s vehicle.” Hester said the GCPD’s Special Weapons & Tactics Unit (SWAT) then converged on the overturned vehicle near the Walmart located off the Altama Connector in Brunswick, Ga.
At this point, SWAT team members and additional patrolmen risked their lives to rescue Carol Wood from her impending death at the hands of her estranged husband. Disregarding their safety, officers attempted to take cover near Wood’s overturned vehicle, while Wood fired several rounds in their direction. Several officers set up in prone positions without cover to stop the threat. These officers’ unselfish concern for the welfare of others led them to ignore the risks to save lives. At the point Wood made the decision to take his wife’s life, officers were forced to take his.
According to Detective Chip Anderson (retired), “There were a lot of brave men out there that day, and to a man, all we cared about was saving Carol and making sure none of our brothers were injured. That was the goal anyway.” Cpl. Jeff Wentworth (retired) added, “It was my job and that was expected of me.”
Cpl. Robert Harvey (retired) summed it up this way:
“When you are in a situation like that, training and what tactics you need to use go through your mind in a matter of seconds. You even try to consider what the outcome might be. You don’t think about family or your well-being, just what needs to be done to resolve the situation. A couple of days later, you start thinking about what if it went wrong, what would your family do? It makes you not take things for granted. You also know in your mind that if a situation came up again, you would still do what was needed to be done and think about what could have gone wrong after it is over.”
After the incident, Carol Wood thanked the officers who took part in saving her life. “That was nice of her,” said Anderson.
So, what would make these officers risk their lives to save Carol Wood? Webster’s 1913 dictionary defines a hero as, “A man of distinguished valor or enterprise in danger, or fortitude in suffering; a prominent or central personage in any remarkable action or event; hence, a great or illustrious person.”
Further, Webster’s defines altruism as, “Regard for others, both natural and moral; devotion to the interests of others; brotherly kindness; – opposed to egoism or selfishness.” Based on these definitions, it’s apparent that officers from the GCPD, and those who assisted, were unselfish heroes.
On this twentieth anniversary, it’s time to reflect on the efforts law enforcement employed to prevent using force to resolve this situation peacefully.