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During last week’s sheriff candidate forum hosted by The Oconee Enterprise, neither James Hale nor Jimmy Williamson took sides on whether roundabouts should replace school traffic deputies. They did, however, share their personnel connection to the 2008 death of deputy David Gilstrap and acknowledge the danger of school traffic control. 

Hale said he was there when Gilstrap was struck by a motorist in front of Oconee County Elementary School. Williamson noted that his wife was a witness to the tragedy. He pointed out that the entrance to Oconee Veterans Park is also a dangerous place for deputies that could be made safer with engineering. Hale noted that in 2017, Lt. George Roberts was struck by a car at that location. 

“If we start looking at more of those (roundabouts), I would want one out there,” said Williamson. 

Hale said the Sheriff’s Office has a long history of deputies directing traffic at schools. It’s an expense that the county government, not the school system, has funded since the early 1990s, according to The Enterprise’s research. 

“The ultimate goal is for those kids and parents to get in and out of the school in a safe manor, and I believe that’s the job of the sheriff to make sure that that safety is maintained,” Hale said. “Any technology or infrastructure that can be designed to get a deputy out of the roadway is also wanted.”

Williamson said he would not abandon the schools’ needs, stating, “If they need traffic directed, we are going to do it.” 

“I believe it’s the commission and school board that need to work this out,” he said. “Anything that they are willing to look at or try to make the deputy safe, I want.” 

Hale reiterated that school traffic patrol is “a level of service they expect to happen,” before adding that if other avenues are available, “we should be open to those changes.” 

For more on this story, see the May 14 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores and grocery stores and newspaper boxes throughout Oconee County. To subscribe, call (706) 769-5175 or visit the tab on our website. 

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