11/17/2007

Ga. officer 'devastated' after crash kills fellow deputy's wife

By Tim Eberly
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Ga. Douglas County sheriff's deputy Chris Black got the worst kind of news Thursday afternoon from his hospital bed.

The woman killed Wednesday in a head-on collision with Black while he was rushing to an armed robbery was the wife of a fellow deputy — a woman his wife had lunch with earlier this week, Douglas County Sheriff Phil Miller said.

"He's just devastated," Miller said. "He was crying and visibly upset. He's heartbroken."

The victim, 44-year-old Tammy Barnwell, a manager at a Wal-Mart in Douglasville, was the wife of deputy Robert Barnwell, a four-year veteran of the department, Miller said.

Tammy Barnwell died at the scene on Ga. 5 and 166. Black suffered a broken leg, wrist and ribs and is recovering at Atlanta Medical Center.

"This is just one of those circumstances where nobody wins and everybody gets hurt," Miller said.

Black, 37, was traveling too fast when he came upon a "sneaky curve" on Ga. 5 — a curve where several wrecks have occurred in recent years, Miller said. He lost control, crossed the center line and smashed into Barnwell's car.

"It doesn't look like as bad a curve as it is," the sheriff said.

The deputy didn't have his blue lights and siren on, the sheriff said.

Video cameras in the sheriff's cruisers begin recording when deputies turn on their blue lights, and a review of the DVD from Black's car did not have footage of the wreck, Miller said.

Miller said he does not know whether Black will be disciplined or charged with Barnwell's death.

"We're going to worry about that once he's out of the hospital," Miller said. "We're going to do what we have to do and we're going to do what's right. ... The toughest punishment for him will be dealing with it every day."

Black had surgery on his wrist Thursday and has had pins and screws put in his wrist and leg, Miller said. He has been sedated, but Miller wanted to break the news to him before the deputy learned the victim's identity from news reports.

Miller doesn't know whether the Black and Barnwell families were friends, but "they knew each other." He said the wives ate lunch together at a function on Tuesday.

Copyright 2007 Atlanta Journal Constitution

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