Interchange to memorialize Atlanta police officer killed by drunken driver

By David Pendered

An Atlanta police officer who was struck and killed by a drunken driver at the Brookwood Interchange has been memorialized with the naming of the interchange in her honor.

The interchange where Atlanta Senior Police Officer Gail Denise Thomas was killed by a drunken driver will be honored with a sign at the intersection where she died. Credit: City of Atlanta

The interchange where Atlanta Senior Police Officer Gail Denise Thomas was killed by a drunken driver will be honored with a sign at the intersection where she died. Credit: City of Atlanta

Senior Patrol Officer Gail Denise Thomas was honored with a sign to be placed at the interchange of the Downtown Connector and exit 251. The exact location and date of installation is still being determined, the state Transportation Department said Friday. The ceremony was Thursday at Atlanta’s Public Safety Headquarters.

Thomas, 46, died Jan. 24, 2012 while working a car crash scene shortly after 11 p.m. near the intersection that leads from southbound I-75 to northbound I-85. The driver who struck Thomas pleaded guilty in February and was sentenced to 16 years in prison on two counts – vehicular homicide and failure to obey the directions of a police officer.

The Georgia Legislature approved the honor for Jones this year by adopting House Resolution 604. State Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta), who resides in Morningside, introduced the resolution. The five cosigners, all Atlanta Democrats, include: Simone Bell; “Able” Mable Thomas; Margaret Kaiser; Tyrone Brooks; and Howard Mosby.

The resolution contains several “whereas” clauses that provide details of Thomas’ life:

  • Born Dec. 22, 1965, daughter of Juliet Mack Thomas and Early Thomas;
  • Graduate of Archer High School and Georgia Military College;
  • Worked five years as a 911 dispatch operator before attending from the Herbert T. Jenkins Police Academy and graduating among the top of her class;
  • Served in Atlanta’s Zone 5, which flanks the Downtown Connector, and was on the honor guard and Red Dog Unit prior to making the rank of senior police officer;
GDOT will install this sign soon to honor fallen Atlanta Senior Police Officer Gail Denise Thomas, who was struck and killed by a drunken driver at the intersection of southbound I-75 and northbound I-85. Credit: Atlanta Police Department

GDOT will install this sign soon to honor fallen Atlanta Senior Patrol Officer Gail Denise Thomas, who was struck and killed by a drunken driver at the intersection of southbound I-75 and northbound I-85. Credit: Atlanta Police Department

And,

  • “Whereas , she was an adoring mother to her daughter, Jasmine Jay Sherman, who made her proud each and every day.”

“Officer Gail Thomas is a hero,” Atlanta police Chief George Turner said in a statement.

“She served with grace and honor and protected her community,” Turner said. “We are pleased to honor and memorialize the courageous life of SPO Gail Thomas with the dedication of a memorial highway sign, so that no one will ever forget her contributions to this city.”

The driver of the car that struck Thomas pleaded guilty in February to one count of vehicular homicide and one count of failure to obey the directions of an officer. A Fulton County grand jury had returned an indictment with 13 charges.

Chastity Nicole Jones, who was 22 when she entered her guilty plea, admitted that she was driving from Marietta to a “club” in Buckhead when she drove into Thomas. Prosecutors said Jones and three passengers in the vehicle were drinking while traveling in order to be intoxicated by the time they arrived at their destination and not have to pay bar prices for alcoholic beverages, according to a story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Jones’ blood alcohol level was 0.155, nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08, prosecutors said. Jones told investigators that she’d smoked marijuana before the accident.

The impact pinned Thomas between the vehicle of her patrol car and the 1998 Honda Accord driven by Jones. One of the officer’s legs was severed. There were no skid marks, indicating Jones never hit the brakes hard.

 

 

About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
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