SOCIAL CIRCLE — When Social Circle Police Officer Robert Orr headed to work in his patrol car just after 5 a.m. the morning of Saturday, March 18, 2017, he thought it was just going to be a routine day. But it didn’t turn out that way at all. Before he had even made it into the precinct, he’d saved a life.
While he was headed down Marable Street in Monroe, Orr, who lives in Gratis, was alerted to a car on the side of the road with its emergency lights flashing. He stopped to help, thinking it was a stranded motorist, and found what he said he initially thought was two dogs fighting, “two large dogs fighting.” But when he got closer he saw a man lying on the ground, covered in blood, being attacked by the dogs. The man was desperately calling for help. Orr said that’s when his training kicked in – and for Tommy Joe Byrd, 52, the man who was being attacked by the dogs, that was when he got the help he desperately needed.
“I gave them the commands – told them to get back. One dog came toward me and I had to shoot it, twice,” Orr said. “I couldn’t shoot while they were over Mr. Byrd. I was worried it would go right through and hit Mr. Byrd.”
Orr shot both the dogs, Rottweilers, and then began to try and help the man lying on the ground.
“It was a gruesome scene, he was attacked viscously,” Orr said. “There was blood on his head, his arms – lacerations to his face, his nose. There was a lot of blood.”
Orr said he heard the sirens so he knew someone had called 911. Byrd was taken to Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center where he remained in a medically induced coma Wednesday.
Orr said he’s just grateful that he was able to be there to give Byrd the help he needed. He said he believes it was God’s intervention.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and I believe that I was there at that time for a reason,” Orr said. “I feel grateful that I was able to help save this man’s life.”
Social Circle Police Chief Tyrone Oliver said he is proud of the way his officer jumped in and did what was necessary even though he was not technically on duty at that time. He said it shows the caliber of his police officers to be ready for duty the minute they put on the uniform and get into their patrol car.
“Officer Orr’s actions directly reflect his commitment to the core values of law enforcement and I think he’s an outstanding officer and a true hero in my book,” Oliver said.
For the family of Byrd, Orr is indeed a true hero. Byrd’s nephew and his wife, John and Lalida Blackwell, wanted to meet the officer and thank him personally for saving the life of their family member.
“On behalf of the family and Mary Smith, who is the sister of Tommy Byrd, we want to thank you for saving my uncle’s life,” Blackwell said. “I wish there was more officers out there like you. We really, really need more officers like you in our community. They were really big dogs and we would just like to thank him, and thank God for sending him that way, because he saved my uncle. I’m just glad he’s here with us, because if it wouldn’t have been for Officer Orr, he wouldn’t have been.”
Byrd’s family said the injured man has a long road ahead to recovery. He had to undergo an eight-hour surgery to his arm, has more than 100 stitches in his head and face, a broken nose and severe injuries to his ears and his left eye.
“They’re not sure whether he will be able to regain the vision in that eye,” Lalida Blackwell said. The Blackwell’s said Byrd was walking home from a friend’s house, something he often does, when he came across the two dogs who were running loose in the neighborhood at the time. They said they have seen the dogs before, but usually on leashes being walked by their owner.
Bill Wise, director of Walton County Animal Control, said the first dog was found deceased on the scene and the second one was turned in Monday and euthanized with the permission of the owner, Walter Clark. He said Clark had reported the dogs missing to Animal Control on Monday morning and his description matched one of the dogs that had been recovered deceased at the time of the attack. Wise said the owner was cited with two counts of animal at large (section 10-3), two counts of no proof of rabies vaccinations (section 10-15b) and two counts of public nuisance (section 10-8).