Valor Awards honor those involved in firefighter hostage situation

By: Tyler Estep

Published: Wednesday, March 26, 2014

DULUTH — On April 10, 2013, a Suwanee man took several Gwinnett County firefighters hostage inside his home, triggering a SWAT standoff that ultimately ended with an explosion, gunfire and his death.

Many of the law enforcement officials involved with that day’s perilous, dramatic events — firefighters, police officers and dispatchers — were among those honored Wednesday at the Gwinnett Center.

“It’s nice to get recognized every once in a while,” Gwinnett police Sgt. Jeff Johnston said afterward.

The Gwinnett Chamber’s Valor Awards cover several different public safety categories each year, including the Lifesaving Award, the Medal of Merit (recognizing an “outstanding public safety program”) and public safety unit and person of the year. There were many different winners on Wednesday, but the events of April 10 dominated the luncheon.

Valor Awards, the highest honor bestowed by the Chamber, were given to each of the Gwinnett County firefighters taken hostage: Driver Engineer Tim Hollingsworth, Firemedic Sidney Garner and Firefighters Chip Echols, Jody Moss and Jason Schuon.

They were also given to several responding members of Gwinnett County police SWAT team: Johnston, Officer Nick Boney and Sgt. Jason Teague.

All were appreciative, if not a little attention averse.

“I think it was nice to be honored as a group, and I’m glad that everyone received the honors and that it wasn’t an (individual) one,” Hollingsworth said.

Added Garner: “To quote (Hollingsworth), it will be something that I can tell my kids and my grandkids. When they ask what is was for, (I’ll say), ‘It’s because we had a really bad day at work.’”

Teague fired the shot that killed hostage-taker Lauren Brown that day, and was shot through his own left forearm in the process. He was given a Purple Heart Award on Wednesday.

“It’s not that I’m trying to be overly humble,” Teague said. “You can ask (Boney or Johnston) or any of those guys. We’ll do it again in five minutes if we have to, we’ll do it a year from now. It’s what we do.”

Lauren Sullins and Natosha Etheridge, who helped handle the hostage case, were named Communications Officers of the Year.

Those honored Wednesday also included: Jerry and Matthew Anderson, civilians who helped Snellville police detain an armed robber during an incident in February 2013; Gwinnett County police officers Joshua Bowie and Jeff Madsen, for their Nov. 22 efforts saving a man from a burning truck; and Snellville Police Department Officer Jennifer Rain Nieddu, who tallied 374 arrests in 2013.