MACON, Ga. — In the coming months, the name of Bibb County Sheriff’s Sgt. William “Bill” Gay will be etched in black granite at the Public Safety Memorial on Mulberry Street.
Gay, 46, died Oct. 14 after his lungs failed while battling COVID-19.
“As best we can determine he contracted it at our training facility,” Sheriff David Davis stated in a recent email to The Center for Collaborative Journalism. “There was also a part-time employee who passed away after contracting COVID at the same training event.”
Part-time bailiff Ryan “Rhino” Fleming, who served as a sheriff’s deputy before working security for his friend Jason Aldean, also was at the Confederate Way sheriff’s training facility in early August. Fleming died Aug. 25.
In an online tribute, Aldean credited Fleming with pulling the country singer offstage in Las Vegas during the Route 91 massacre. During the concert, a gunman opened fire and killed nearly 60 people and wounded more than 400.
Aldean said Fleming “put his life in danger to take care of me and my crew. He was a good man and an even better friend.”
Because Sgt. Gay is believed to have gotten sick while on the job, he is considered a “line of duty” law enforcement death, Davis said.
On Wednesday, the Macon Fire and Police Employees’ Retirement System board approved enhanced survivor’s benefits for Gay’s widow. He also is survived by four children.
In announcing Gay’s death Oct. 14, the sheriff’s office Facebook page noted Gay had served the department for over 14 years and received multiple commendations for his work in patrol and investigations.
He is the department’s first COVID-19 line of duty death.
“If you’re doing training for the job and there’s a training accident, that’s considered a line of duty death,” said Danny Angelo, chairman of the public safety retirement board that oversees pension funds.
Macon-Bibb County Interim Fire Chief Shane Edwards said his department has not seen any COVID-19 deaths.
“Fortunately, thank goodness,” Edwards said Thursday. “Had a few that’s had it, but none that have succumbed to that.”
The Officer Down Memorial Page lists nearly 500 law enforcement officers across the country who have died of COVID-19 since 2020, making it the No. 1 killer of officers the past two years.
“Getting vaccinated is just as important as wearing your vest and seatbelt,” states a banner atop the page of hundreds of faces lost to the newest deadly coronavirus.
Bibb County Sheriff’s public affairs Lt. Sean DeFoe said deputies go through continual training and this particular class involved practicing defensive tactics used to encounter suspects and subdue them.
“They had training classes all throughout the spring until August without the first case (of COVID-19) whatsoever,” DeFoe said.
Because of the physical nature of the hands-on class, the officers were not wearing masks and could not socially distance.
DeFoe said although vaccines were offered to the department, he was not sure of the vaccination status of those officers in the class. He said about nine people were in the class and at least four came down with COVID.
About three weeks later, Gay’s wife was organizing a prayer meeting outside the hospital where her husband spent his last two months.
By Sept. 19, his lungs had failed, and the family was told he would need a lung transplant to survive. He died less than a month later.
Sheriff Davis said Gay will receive the same honors as other fallen law enforcement officers killed at the hands of criminals or in car crashes while on duty.
“His name will be added to the wall here in Macon as well as in Washington, D.C.”
Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Jarvis Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 478-301-2976.