YEAR IN REVIEW: Officers met with gunfire in 2009

COVINGTON -- The county was rocked in early August 2009 when two Newton County Sheriff's Office deputies were shot when they approached a home on Parker Road in south Newton County after answering a call concerning an attempted suicide.

Deputy Wesley Atha, a member of the NCSO for just over two years, was shot twice -- once in the arm and once in the back -- his bullet proof vest stopping that round from doing life-threatening damage.

Deputy James Trent, a deputy since February 2008, was shot in the chin and the bullet exited through his neck.

Deputies were rushed to Atlanta Medical Center where they underwent surgery. They have recovered from their wounds, although Atha has faced additional surgery to his arm.

It was determined that 20-year-old Thomas Leland Powell fired on the deputies with a .22-caliber rifle, which he later turned on himself. Powell died from a gunshot wound to the head.

The incident inspired Atha's family to see that NCSO deputies have the best protection possible against gunfire.

"The vests the county offers now are Level II. We just feel that Newton County has changed and we feel like it's very important that these guys who are out there protecting us have the Level III vests, which are the best they can get," said Dawn Atha when she announced the formation of a fund to raise more than $113,000 needed to purchase the vests.

More than 250 individuals and groups have contributed to the fund established for the purchase of the bullet-proof vests for NCSO deputies. The fund currently stands at more than $66,000, not including funds recently received from the U.S. Department of Justice. Donations to this cause can be made by check payable to the Newton County Sheriff's Office and earmarked for Safety Vests & Equipment. Donations can be mailed to the NCSO in care of Apryle Jones, 15151 Alcovy Road, Covington, GA 30014.

Also, a Georgia State Patrol trooper from Post 46 and a Covington Police officer narrowly escaped being shot following a chase on Interstate 20 involving speeds in excess of 90 mph in late October.

Officers returned fire on the suspect, 25-year-old Marvin Mercier of 1417 Oak Knoll Drive, Conyers, killing him after he fired a .38-caliber revolver at the two officers.

CPD spokesman Lt. Wendell Wagstaff said his officers got involved near Wal-Mart when they heard the GSP was involved in a chase headed east on I-20.

"Just before going under the bridge there on I-20 at Alcovy, the GSP initiated the PIT maneuver. It was successful and got him (Mercier) to stop ... The suspect immediately pulled a revolver and started shooting at the trooper. Between the trooper and the (CPD) officer, they both shot, and the threat was stopped."