Once again, the Thin Blue Line has gotten thinner because of tragedy.
Late Friday afternoon, an Albany police officer, Terry L. Fleming, lost her life during the pursuit of two suspects in an armed holdup.
As Fleming and Officer Gregory Batson were chasing the suspects, who were believed to be armed and a danger to the public, their police cruisers collided. Fleming’s car slammed into a tree and burst into flames, killing her. Batson was injured as well, though thankfully his injuries did not appear to be life-threatening.
How this collision happened will be determined by Georgia State Patrol investigators, but the facts are that it never would have occurred had there not been an armed holdup and had the suspects not raced away, trying to elude capture.
Too often we, the public, take law enforcement officers for granted. We moan, gripe and fuss about shortcomings that we perceive in the ways they do their jobs, and rarely do we take into account the dangers and sacrifices that each of them face every day that they put on their unforms and pin on their badges.
And we forget that they, like us, are human beings with lives away from the uniforms and police cruisers, lives filled with people who love them.
For Officer Terry L. Fleming, her life was cut tragically short at the age of 36.
Fleming had been married only about six months when she died. She has been taken away from her three children and her husband. Their lives and the lives of her other family and friends have been torn by this senseless death, which has recreated a void in their lives that will never be filled.
It was a risk that Fleming willingly took every day she went to work.
“She was doing what she loved best — serving her community,” Police Chief John Proctor said Friday night. “We lost a fine person and one of our finest officers doing the job she wished to do.”
The SUV driven by the fleeing suspects wrecked, as well. They’re in jail, charged with the armed robbery and, because of Fleming’s death, felony murder. Police officials say they recovered a gun and cash from the vehicle.
It will be up to the court system to decide what happens to Kentrell Bernard Butler and Wesley Martavi Wilkerson, the two men who are facing the charges. But they are off the streets, and the people of Albany are that much safer because of it.
But we’re that much poorer, too, because of the loss of a woman who, as Chief Proctor said, was one of the Albany Police Department’s finest officers. And a family is in mourning over the loss of a beloved wife and mom.
The price of ensuring the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that we, as Americans, are promised, is not infringed upon by the criminal element is never cheap. But this is another case where the cost was excessive.
Officer Terry L. Fleming died trying to make Albany a better place. The rest of us should do what we can to make certain that her sacrifice was not in vain.