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Georgia Sheriff's Deputy Killed in Cruiser Wreck

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ga. -- Cruz Thomas planned to follow in his father's footsteps.

At age 26, he'd spent his whole career in public safety. He recently worked for two sheriffs' offices in Georgia -- as a full-time deputy in Jackson County and a part-time officer for Franklin County, where his father, Stevie, is the sheriff.

When he went to work, Cruz Thomas got his dad's old badge number. The younger Thomas had hoped to be sheriff someday.

That dream was cut short this week when he died in a wreck on Interstate 85 in Georgia.

Thomas was on duty in Franklin County when he lost control of his patrol car, went down an embankment and crashed into several trees, according to Sgt. Al Whitworth of the Georgia State Patrol.

The wreck happened just before 9 p.m. Wednesday near mile marker 163 on I-85. Witnesses to the crash told law enforcement officers that Thomas had been driving north and was trying to catch a vehicle that had committed a traffic violation.

While Thomas was pursuing the vehicle, a tractor-trailer tried to change lanes in front of him, authorities said. Thomas swerved onto a grassy median to avoid a collision, losing control of the patrol car. The car crossed the northbound lanes and then went off an embankment, Whitworth said.

Thomas was thrown from the patrol car and died at the crash scene.

Investigators are still trying to determine who Thomas was pursuing. They do not know who was driving the tractor-trailer that attempted to change lanes on the interstate just before the crash.

Whitworth said the state patrol accident reconstruction team and troopers with the patrol's Toccoa post are handling the investigation.

Flags are flying half-staff at the Franklin County Sheriff's Office in Thomas' honor. He is survived by his parents, his sister and an 8-month-old daughter.

The details of the deputy's funeral had not been made final as of Thursday evening, but Franklin County officials said they had already heard from hundreds of officers who plan to make the trip to Georgia to pay their respects.

Maj. Chris Looney of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office said many people there have known Cruz Thomas since he was a boy.

"I've known him since he was in junior high school," Looney said. "He was one of us, and he wanted to be like his father. He was an asset to this office and to this community. I've been in law enforcement for over 20 years, and this is one of the hardest days I've known."

In his career, Cruz Thomas also served as a radio operator for the Georgia State Patrol and had worked at the patrol's posts in Toccoa and Gainesville.

"The law enforcement community has lost a lot in losing Cruz," Looney said. "He always had a heart for this work, and it's hard when we think about what more he might have been."

Copyright 2014 - Anderson Independent Mail, S.C.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service