By Kathy Jefcoats
Henry police Sgt. Jimmy Gilbert will be laid to rest with law enforcement honors following funeral services Wednesday morning at Haisten Funeral Home in Jackson.
Gilbert died early Sunday morning when his patrol car slammed into the rear of an illegally-parked box truck, said Georgia State Patrol Trooper First Class Larry Schnall. The Allied Moving Co. truck driver, who is not being identified and has not been charged pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation, is from Bosnia and speaks little English.
Schnall said neither the driver nor his passenger was injured. The truck they were riding in was illegally parked in the emergency lane, one-third up the exit ramp at Exit 221 along northbound Interstate 75. Schnall said all four truck tires were sitting on the right side of the white line.
"He can't park there unless he has a mechanical breakdown or has a health emergency," said Schnall. "In either case, he is to use flashers and other indication that he is stopped. He had no lights on, no cones, nothing."
It is believed that the truck driver was simply sleepy and pulled off the road to nap so he wouldn't become a hazard to others.
"In doing so, he created another type of hazard," he said. "He should have just gotten off the highway."
Troopers with the GSP Specialized Collision and Reconstruction Team took the driver's logbooks to verify his trip and rest times to make sure he was in compliance with Department of Transportation and other state laws, he said. Gilbert's patrol car has also been impounded as part of the investigation.
"Because of scheduling conflicts, it will be Thursday before they even begin processing his vehicle," said Schnall. "But once they get going, the investigation should be cleared up fairly quick because the facts are that simple."
While driver fatigue is being blamed for the parked truck, Schnall said it may never be known why Gilbert was traveling in the emergency lane. Skid mark information has not been released, he said.
"For some unknown reason, he was traveling in the emergency lane and it is uncertain why," said Schnall. "We may never know that."
Gilbert was the night sergeant, working 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
The driver gave officers a Knoxville address and carries a Tennessee commercial driver's license. Because he has not been charged, the driver was released but left contact information with troopers.
"We've been in contact with prosecutors about this case and troopers will be meeting with them in the near future to discuss charges," Schnall said.
Flint District Attorney Tommy Floyd confirmed that troopers have consulted with his office.
"When they finish their investigation, they'll turn it over to us to review to determine if charges are appropriate under the facts," he said.
Floyd said Gilbert would be missed.
"I knew him from working in Butts County and when he worked here," said Floyd. "He was a fine officer and a fine person. My condolences go out to the family. It's just a tragedy."
Gilbert worked previously for the Henry County Sheriff's Office. Maj. Keith McBrayer said Gilbert would be remembered as a dedicated officer.
"He was always quiet but always smiling," said McBrayer. "If you met him, you'd remember him because he always gave you the impression that he was there to help you. He'd listen to people and do what he could to help."
His death serves as a reminder of the brevity and uncertainty of life.
"It's a very sad situation," McBrayer said. "From one day to the next, you just never know what's going to happen. Jimmy will definitely be missed. Some people leave and you just don't think about them again but people who knew him will definitely miss him."
Services for Gilbert have been set for Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Haisten Funeral Home in Jackson. Interment with full honors from the Henry County Bureau of Police Services will follow at Flovilla City Cemetery. Public visitation begins today at 10 a.m. and lasts until 9 p.m. at the funeral home.
A fund has been established for the Gilbert family, which includes wife Patricia and children Allison, Austin and Sarah. Donations can be made to the First Georgia Community Bank in Jackson or Locust Grove in the name of Sgt. Jimmy Gilbert Memorial Fund. The family lives in Flovilla, southeast of Jackson.
Flags around Henry County flew at half-staff Monday and law enforcement officers displayed a black or black and blue ribbon across their shields as a sign of respect for Gilbert's passing. Grief counselors met Monday with Henry police officers on all shifts, and with any county employee who asked for help in dealing with the unexpected death.
Officers attending Henry Magistrate Court at the county jail Monday morning were somber, confirming the general consensus that Gilbert was a "nice, likable guy" and a "great officer." He is the first Henry County police officer to die in the line of duty since the bureau was formed in 1991.
Gilbert, 41, got his start in law enforcement working as a sheriff's deputy in his home county of Butts in 1984. In 1987, he moved to the Henry County Sheriff's Office where he remained until 1993 when he switched to the Henry County Bureau of Police Services.