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Three motorists hailed for valor
Pulled driver from burning van on 400
Todd Hollaway, Terry Johnson and Gary McBrayar hold their citizen awards, presented by Chief Deputy Michael Giordano and Maj. Mark Hoffman. - photo by Alyssa LaRenzie

The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office often honors its deputies for a job well done, but three men without badges also received recognition Wednesday.

Chief Deputy Michael Giordano credited the men with saving the life of a driver involved in a September wreck.

Gary McBrayar, Terry Johnson and Todd Hollaway pulled a handicapped man from his van, which had caught fire after a collision on Ga. 400 south just past Pilgrim Mill Road.

The Sept. 9 incident claimed the life of 60-year-old Maria Josefa Martinez, who died at the scene.

Though the men couldn’t do anything to help Martinez, they were able to pull the van driver from the blaze.

He had been previously paralyzed from the chest down and was unable to get using the van’s chair lift due to the fire, authorities have said.

Giordano said he considered them to be “heroes.”

“They put themselves in danger, getting out on Ga. 400, approaching a vehicle that was on fire and helping a man get out of his vehicle and pull him to safety,” he said. “It’s rare to see citizens that don’t know each other just come to the aid and help somebody else and save their lives.”

All three men were modest about their efforts.

Johnson said he felt compelled to stop after seeing the accident happen in front of him. He described the scene as “very traumatic.”

Hollaway, a paramedic in Dawson County, was off duty at the time, but has previously said his reaction to stop was “gut instinct.”

McBrayar has said he was traveling north on Ga. 400 and ran to the other side of the highway to see if he could help.

He felt the emergency responders working to save Martinez were the real heroes.

The sheriff’s office also presented awards to some of its own on Wednesday.

Deputy Brian Chatham received the American Police Hall of Fame honor for excellent arrest.

Also from the hall of fame, deputies Mike Nelson and Mike Reutter were each awarded the silver star of bravery for their actions at a house fire.

The first Crime Fighter Award went to “D” watch, under Lt. Gus Sesam, for consistently producing significant arrests and reviewing trends to better serve the community.

Maj. Mark Hoffman said the new award will move around, staying with one group until another watch can top it.