Friday evening off-duty Cartersville Police Department officer Josh Downer and his wife, Kayleigh, were traveling to Dahlonega for their anniversary when a vehicle ahead of them began veering across the roadway.
“We were behind the vehicle. It started swerving to the left, hit a truck, hit another truck and then went in the ditch. I pulled over and got out. I went to the vehicles, checked them. The third vehicle I got to the guy was, it looked like to me, was in shock,” Downer said Wednesday. “I noticed he wasn’t responding to me when I talked to him. I checked his pulse — there was no pulse — and then I opened the door, got him out of the car, drug him off the road and started CPR, chest compressions more than CPR.”
The 44-year-old driver, Barry Franks, had suffered a massive heart attack.
Downer, who administered aid until emergency personnel took over, is being hailed as a hero for his actions. For just the third time in 34 years, CPD on Wednesday awarded him the Life Saving Medal, one of five service awards bestowed by the department.
Franks was en route to his girlfriend’s home in Rydal on Friday when he suffered the heart attack.
“He got off at my exit, and then the last text message he texted me was that he would be at my house and he was going to take a shower,” said Christie Waters, Franks’ girlfriend. “... He’s not from Cartersville… So, when I got home that night and he wasn’t there, I knew that something was wrong. I just was waiting. I was trying to find out, but I didn’t have a whole lot to go on. I had not seen any wrecks or heard about any wrecks, but finally, I guess, I called the sheriff’s department the last time around 1 [a.m.] and about 2:30 the sheriff’s department called me and transferred me to Atlanta Medical Center.”
Waters was able to identify Franks, who had been entered at the hospital as John Doe because his wallet was located inside the vehicle.
“... They said somebody pulled him out and gave him CPR until the paramedics got there and then they lifeflighted him to the hospital. Of course, they had to shock him four times, too. He’s still in critical condition, but he wouldn’t be in there period because the doctor’s told us that it’s just so lucky — it’s a miracle — that somebody was that close,” she said. “His CT scans came back negative because no brain damage. And they said that’s all because he didn’t have lack of oxygen to the brain and that’s all because that officer, Josh, was giving him breath and giving oxygen to his brain.”
The 22-year-old Downer, a member of the National Guard, said his response was automatic.
“Like everybody was kind of panicking and all. Even my wife, she was there, she was like, ‘You were so calm,’” he said. “... I just knew what I was doing but not really at the same time, I guess, from training. It all just kind of kicks in somewhere.”
Downer, a Taylorsville-Kingston area native, joined Cartersville Police Department in November, graduating from the police academy in March. CPD Chief Tommy Culpepper said Downer’s actions represent what the young man, described by several as “quiet,” is all about.
“This fairly well demonstrates to the public what he is about — he is about offering himself in service without the what’s-in-it-for-me attitude,” Culpepper said. “That’s what we want in our officers. We want them to live and breathe that because that’s what it takes to make this job effective. He’s one of those that, for him, this occurring this early in his career is only going to serve to solidify that in him.”
Although Franks’ condition remains critical, Waters called Downer “a guardian angel” who gave the older man the opportunity to recover.
“I think that it’s the most heroic. Anymore at this day and time people just go past it and don’t really help out,” she said. “... I talked to [Downer]; I texted him. I don’t even have the words to tell him. … I know that he was a stranger to you when you pulled over and did what you were trained to do, thank God.
“[Franks is] progressing every day, a little. It was a massive, massive heart attack. It’s going to take him time and it’s going to be a long road to recovery, but Josh is the reason that he is getting a chance to recover. ... If he pulls out of this, that’ll be a wonderful thing. Josh gave him the opportunity to recover is the way I look at it and the way the doctors look at it.”
Culpepper echoed Waters sentiment.
“I just can’t say enough about officers like him, or him specifically in this case, because what he did ... had great impact in someone else’s life that resulted in the saving of a life,” the chief said. “I told my wife last night we have a bona fide hero working for us. That’s what he is — a bona fide hero.”
The praise, however, has left Downer a little speechless himself.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to say. It’s kind of just what anyone else would do. I joined the military and did this to one day, you know, know this would be something I wanted to do,” he said, adding his passion has always been for law enforcement and helping people. “I kind of love the uniform, wearing it for a reason other than just coming to work every day and clocking in. You are here to do something besides just show up.”