Gridlock Guy: Ten years later, Captain Herb’s final selfless act

A decade should feel like a long time. Plenty of things change amidst nearly 3700 sunrises and sunsets. But when someone leaves such an indelible mark on this planet, their departure can feel like only yesterday.

Such is the case with Captain Herb Emory, who died April 12th, 2014, while helping direct traffic, after rescuing two young men from a crash near his house on South Burnt Hickory Road in Douglasville. A legendary 95.5 WSB traffic reporter, staunch public servant, and honorary police officer died while doing all three things.

He was 61-years-old and had helped celebrate the opening of the new I-85 and GA-400 flyover ramps on his birthday just 10 days before. The state named those ramps after him a year later and soon after also named the rebuilt Lee Road bridge over I-20 for Emory as well.

But the things that honor Captain Herb are not actually his legacy, thankfully. They are a result of it.

The days and weeks of wonderful tributes all had their shelf life in April and May of 2014. The Captain Herb Memorial Ride, benefiting Toys for Tots, at Fred’s BBQ House in Lithia Springs lasted several years. The annual Toys for Tots drive at Fred’s also held its last big shabang in 2018. Avid WSB listener Mike Haney held a disc golf tournament for a few years to benefit Fred’s Toys for Tots fund. Several other events and fundraisers held special tributes for Emory those first years after his passing.

And the annual Swing For a Cause golf tournament at Chateau Elan that, too, raises funds TFT and still honors Emory.

Most tributes come and go; a strong legacy outlasts them. And Captain Herb’s assuredly has.

For all of the acclaim that his iconic traffic reporting rightfully drew, what really stood Emory apart was his overall dedication to helping others. His final stanza on Earth was the perfect example.

Ch. 2 Action News’ Tom Jones interviewed Manuel McFarland just days after Emory’s death. Emory had helped pull McFarland’s two sons Jalen (11) and Julius (19) from the crash that fateful day.

“Herb was, from what I was told, he was like the third person on the scene and he was trying to get my oldest son Julius out,” McFarland said. Julius told Jones he was basically knocked out in the crash, trapped inside the mangled car. As McFarland arrived, he was understandably shaken at what he saw. “Herb calmed [Julius] down... and was trying to get Julius out of the vehicle. Also calmed me down because I was hysterical,” McFarland recalled.

McFarland said that Emory seemed to be in control of the scene - like a true captain - telling people where to go. Then Emory went to direct traffic, while McFarland went to the hospital. Moments later, Emory was dead.

This was on a Saturday and Captain Herb was working in his yard with his buddy, Sergeant Andy Cook. They heard a loud crash and ran toward the problem when they easily could have just called 911 and then wandered over and filmed it on their phones. They interrupted their quiet Saturday and became the first responders. And that decision could have saved a life or prevented further injury. At very least, it brought calm.

Hustling into the storm also was what put Emory’s heart into overdrive and brought his demise. A true act of selflessness.

There are plenty of heroes worldwide that would have done the same thing, but so many people do not. Many have somehow - maybe by over exposure - become desensitized to suffering.

Case in point: the WSB Traffic Team and I heard DeKalb FD responding to a woman lying in the road, who may have been hit by a vehicle, on Memorial Drive at Rockbridge Road, on Friday, April 5th. When we pulled up the Jam Cam there, we saw what looked like a person, sheathed in black, horizontal and in the middle of the intersection. This was pre-sunrise, so they were hard to see. And cars were just zigging and zagging right past, as if they were passing nothing more than a garbage bag.

Passing drivers’ passiveness to such a thing made us question if that indeed actually was a person in the street. They indeed were, as the medics loaded them up on a backboard and police spray painted the road with investigation markers.

Granted, the victim was hard to see, but how could people knowingly pass what looked like a person in distress? At least the driver that hit them remained on scene, DeKalb PD said.

Contrasting that to Captain Herb’s final act in life again shows how bright his light burned. He did over 100 years of good deeds in his 61 years. Those covered a spectrum from helping at a crash scene or helping soothe thousands of motorists from the WSB Skycopter to helping get stray dogs to the shelter.

Or, as McFarland shared then, he remembered Emory showing up to his third grade career day, a couple of decades earlier. Emory, McFarland recalled, was engaging and put his hand on his shoulder as he addressed him.

A legacy - a light that still brightly burns. 10 years will be 20, then 30, then 50. But a life lived like Captain Herb Emory’s never feels too far away.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.





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