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Conyers officer awarded for heroism
Governor's Office honors Blanchette with Act of Heroism award
(L-R) Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police President, City of Monroe Chief of Police, Keith Glass with Officer Stephen J. Blanchette, Governor Nathan Deal, and Conyers Police Chief Gene Wilson

A Conyers police officer was recognized by the Governor's office and awarded an Act of Heroism medal for his brave actions in saving the life of a crash victim.

Governor Nathan Deal gave the keynote address at the Governor's Public Safety Awards ceremony held Wednesday at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth. Twelve outstanding public safety professionals were recognized for acts of heroism. Conyers Police Officer Stephen J. Blanchette was awarded a medallion and his name was added to the GPSA monument located inside GPSTC.

"It is my honor to recognize Georgia's brave law enforcement officers and emergency responders," said Governor Deal. "These courageous individuals have made a commitment to help safeguard our communities and protect our families and I cannot thank them enough for their loyal and tireless service to our state."

Early Sunday morning on February 23, 2014, Officer Blanchette was on patrol when a citizen who just witnessed a horrific crash flagged him down.

What remained of a blue Chrysler Sebring lay inverted, mangled, and crumpled, at the bottom of a 35 foot ravine. The vehicle had been traveling at a speed of more than 100 miles per hour westbound on Sigman Road, near Gees Mill Road, when it left the roadway and demolished a 47 foot tall power pole that was supporting multiple active electrical and cable lines. The force of impact was so great it pulled the base of the pole from the ground, which was buried 8 feet deep, and carried it 166 feet to finally rest in the ravine with the vehicle.

Upon hitting the embankment, the front passenger, 20-year-old Sanchez Fortson of Covington, was partially ejected. Fortson suffered a broken leg and was pinned beneath the vehicle, which immediately burst into flames.

Officer Blanchette grabbed his fire extinguisher and entered the ravine with damaged power lines looming directly above.

One crash victim was able to walk away from the car. Blanchette found another person from the crash a few feet away from the vehicle, which was rapidly succumbing to the building fire. That person, the driver, had suffered a disabling injury to his leg and unable to get away. Officer Blanchette took hold and dragged him up the embankment where he was able to get assistance from a Good Samaritan who had stopped to help.

Officer Blanchette returned to the burning vehicle in an attempt to rescue the other trapped victim. Unfortunately, there was no longer a safe way to approach. The flames were extremely hot and had reached as high as the power lines overhead.

Fortson died on the scene that night. Passenger Antonio Johnson, 18, of Lithonia and driver Keshaun Cobb, 18, of Covington were taken to Atlanta hospitals.

At great personal risk, and through his immediate action, Officer Blanchette saved the life of Keshaun Cobb that night.

At Wednesday's Conyers City Council meeting, Councilman Cleveland Stroud commended Officer Blanchette's actions that day. It was a situation where "a white officer put his life on the line to save a black" man, said Stroud. "That doesn't make headlines." He said the media should "let people know the guys in blue aren't always the bad guy. Usually, they're the good guy."

The Act of Heroism award recognizes those who, within the previous year, performed an exceptional deed that resulted in saving lives and/or protecting property. The annual GPSA program began in 1998 to recognize public safety officers who go above and beyond the call of duty to protect citizens and make significant contributions to the public safety profession at large.